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Fans salute hero Troussier

By Jeremy Walker
 TOKYO (June 18)--There's no doubt who holds all the cards in the on-going saga between Philippe Troussier and the Japanese Football Association. And he's definitely French.
 Amidst remarkable scenes at the International Stadium Yokohama on Sunday, some 65,000 fans chanted Troussier's name and jeered the JFA following Japan's handsome 2-0 victory over Bolivia.
 For the record, Japan's win earned them a share of the three-nation Kirin Cup championship along with Slovakia, who had also beaten Bolivia 2-0 last Wednesday after drawing 1-1 with Japan the previous Sunday.
 But that was hardly the point in the big picture of Troussier's future after the recent turbulent events.
 When the JFA president, Shun-ichiro Okano, was introduced to present the awards, he was whistled by the fans, who also called for the dismissal of Troussier's biggest critic, JFA vice-president Kunishige Kamamoto, goal-scoring hero of Japan's bronze medal-winning team at the 1968 Mexico Olympics.
 The jubilant Japan players turned the champagne bottles on Troussier, who, half-drenched in bubbly, joined them on a lap of honour.
 "Troussier, Nippon," chanted the fans, as the Frenchman held hands with the players and bowed deeply as white tickertape cascaded from the stands of the gleaming new stadium in the afternoon sunshine.
 There were also calls of "Sack Kamamoto" and "Useless JFA" as the blue masses made their views loud and clear.
 Troussier's contract ends on June 30 and he is now hoping to lead Japan through to the 2002 World Cup.
 But if he is not happy with his working conditions--and he is demanding the freedom to select players without negotiation with clubs, as well as the choice of opposition and dates of games--then he is ready to walk out.
 He says he has been offered a two-year deal to coach a club who will play in next season's UEFA Champions League, and the rumours on Sunday were that the club is Turkey's Galatasaray, who beat Arsenal, coached by his good friend Arsene Wenger, in last month's UEFA Cup final in Copenhagen.
 In the match itself, Japan's goals were both scored by Kashima Antlers striker Atsushi Yanagisawa, who struck in the seventh and 34th minutes.
 His first followed a left-wing free kick from Atsuhiro Miura which Yanagisawa prodded home left-footed from near the penalty spot.
 His second rounded off a swift and incisive move in the last third of the field, culminating in centre forward Akinori Nishizawa slipping the ball through to his fellow forward, who swept home from 12 yards, this time with his right foot.
 But Troussier was the star of the show, and, as unpredictable as ever, he baffled the media after the game by refusing to answer questions in his press conference.
 "It's my turn to speak," he said defiantly, before advising the media: "Go and enjoy dinner with your wives tonight. Don't bother me and wait outside my home because I'm just a normal person, so leave me alone."
 He then proceeded to perform a soliloquy summing up his position, feelings and hopes.
 "I would like to thank my staff and the sponsors, and I find sympathy for the few people who do not have faith in this talented team.
 "I am now in a very strong position because I think I have proved that what I've been doing for the past two years is right."  Referring to his conditions for the future, he added: "I am not threatening anyone, but we need to have more organisation and more policy to take ourselves to the next level.
 "I am at the end of my contract and if the JFA is interested in renewing it I do not think it is particularly wise for some members of the JFA to say bad things about me.
 "The FA needs to believe in me. If the FA wants to sign Philippe Troussier we have to work under circumstances which are very different from those for the past two years."
 The biggest problem, Troussier feels, is that the senior JFA members are living in the olden days, in the days of the 1968 Mexico Olympics in fact, and are out of touch with modern football methods, on and off the pitch.
 "I am a professional but at the same time I am not perfect," he admitted, acknowledging his often brusque and direct manner, which stands out even more in conservative, methodical Japan.
 "I have my ideas, my suggestions and plans, and I am willing to be responsible for them."
 Troussier leaves on Tuesday for a holiday in Africa and then Euro 2000 and plans to meet JFA president Okano before departure.
 "It may be in a public place, it may be hidden in a basement, but I want a frank, direct relationship with the FA."
 And he warned: "I am at the crossroads and I do not know which way to turn. The Sydney Olympics is only three months away and I still don't know if I'll be coach."
 Okano has remained loyal to Troussier, despite constant leaks to the media from other JFA officials that the Frenchman will be sacked.
 Okano said he would base his decision on Japan's four internationals in June, and they have now drawn 2-2 with France, beaten Jamaica 4-0, both in Morocco, drawn 1-1 with Slovakia and beaten Bolivia 2-0, both in Japan.  Even if the JFA is ready to give more power to Troussier, it may be too late to keep him.
And then they'll have the fans to answer to, too.