Interviewing Philippe Troussier in Hong Kong in mid-1999 was memorable for a lot of reasons. His answers reflected his philosophy in football.
With Hatem Souissi, Zainul Azhar Ash'ari of Utusan Malaysia, Troussier and Hazli Hussaini of Harian Metro. The pre-Facebook, twitter days....a time when journalists wrote out of passion, not for fame
WIDELY-TRAVELLED Frenchman Phillippe Troussier, now charting the fortunes of Japan soccer, has often been described as aloof and a figure the media love to hate. In an exclusive interview with Troussier in Hong Kong during the Olympic qualifiers first leg last week, Mailsports' Rizal Hashim gained an insight into his personality.
Sunday Mail: How are you adapting to life in Japan?
Troussier: I spent an eventful decade in Africa. Now after ten months in Japan, I can sense a different kind of challenge. My 10 years in Africa was a great human experience which is certainly useful to help me adapt to a different culture, food and environment. Now I feel very much at home in Japan. But what excites me is the fact Japan soccer is on the rise and we have the 2002 World Cup to look forward to. I have a great group of executive officers in Japan FA (JFA) to facilitate my job, the working atmosphere is wonderful and it is an honour to be part of the team. I have a large and interesting group of players to work with, which makes things a little bit easier on the pitch.
SM: How do you explain the negative reports on your relationship with JFA?
T: I believe most of it is an exaggeration. But I'm very forthright in my approach. There are things that need to be changed in order to move forward. I let my feelings known to JFA and there have been both negative and positive reactions to them.
SM: Have you mastered the Japanese language?
T: No, I have no intention to master the language. But I learn the language for my casual life. I want to communicate with the waiters in the restaurant, hail a taxi or share a joke or two with my players outside our working hours. On a professional level, I need a translator simply because it is important to avoid any confusion. I don't want my bad Japanese to create chaos. The presence of an interpreter is important to convey exactly what I want. Anyway Japanese is a difficult language to master. But it does not pose any problems for me. Football is universal. In the end what matters is the performance of the team on the football field.
SM: How is your relationship with the Japanese media?
T: I think I have a love hate relationship with the media, even during my days in Africa. But throughout this Hong Kong mission, I've banned the players from reading the newspapers. I've requested my staff in Tokyo to collect all the newspapers and magazines and let the players read all the reports upon their return from Hong Kong. I want the boys to focus on this mission where they have to play eight matches in 20 days. I want them to have enough recuperation period and a relaxed atmosphere without the added pressure from the media. In Japan, I cannot share something with the journalists. Unlike in France where I can share my views with certain journalists off the record, in Japan it's almost impossible. Sometimes journalists have to understand the job and the views of a coach. You have to respect the coach's professional approach. There are things which you cannot publish when told in confidence. In Nigeria, the media gave the impression that I was a difficult person to work with. I was called too strict, authoritarian, cannot communicate properly and short tempered all the time. Sometimes it's better to keep a distance between the media and the coach. I don't have problems dealing with the press. In fact I believe I give them something different to write. I think the press need somebody different to project an image for their commercial purposes. Sometimes when I feel like keeping quiet, people ask me, `What's wrong with you Monsieur Troussier, are you sick?' Personally, I treat the media as part of my staff, not to make enemies with.
SM: Your Olympic team appear to attract attention from a large section of the Japanese media.
T: It's good that (Hidetoshi) Nakata is not with the team. Otherwise there would be another 200 journalists accompanying him which would instantly add more pressure to the side. It would have been nice to have Nakata with us, especially since this team do not know Nakata personally and they have never played together with him. It's good to show the players that Nakata is also a mere mortal. Here he is, he's just like you, with two feet and two hands. Already we have 200 journalists following the team to Hong Kong and we certainly do not need another 200 to scrutinise every movement of the players.
SM: Why was Nakata excluded from your Olympic plans?
T: There are many reasons for that. First he has reached a different plane. He is a world class player, having acquitted himself well in Serie A. But I'm under pressure from the Fifa rules which stipulate that clubs can release their players only 48 hours before the international match. But I'm very happy with my group and I believe we can survive the first round or even the second round without Nakata. But I would dearly love to have his services if we qualify for Sydney.
SM: What is the greatest challenge you face in Japan?
T: Although Japan are already considered a powerhouse in Asia, we are nowhere near the top. We must play outside the continent in order to progress. This applies to all the teams in Asia. I'm not sure J-league experience is enough for international matches. We have reached a certain level but it is far from what I want. My mission is for all our national teams to be exposed to matches outside the continent. We have played Korea and China countless times. To move forward, we have to play stronger oppositions all the time. Spending a week in Africa, Europe and Latin America is much better than spending four weeks in Japan. That is why we should have a uniformed schedule. But the domestic fixtures do not correspond with the international calendar. I plan to play the nations from the top 15 bracket like Scotland, Denmark and Norway more often to give the players confidence. Playing the top five is too difficult at this moment. But we have shown progress, as illustrated by our successful outing in the Youth World Cup in Nigeria. I believe majority of the players like (Shinji) Ono, (Masashi) Motoyama, (Junichi) Inamoto and (Tomoyuki) Sakai will play important roles in the near future and could well feature in the 2002 World Cup.
* Troussier is 44 years old and had previously coached Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and South Africa before taking up the Japanese offer on the advice of former Nagoya Grampus Eight coach Arsene Wenger. His contract with JFA ends in June 2000 but if Japan qualify for the Asian Cup, it is automatically extended until after the tournament.