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Thomson, Sanfrecce to part company

By Jeremy Walker

   TOKYO (August 8)--Manager Eddie Thomson and Sanfrecce Hiroshima will part company at the end of the year.
   The 53-year-old Scotsman made the announcement on Tuesday after holding talks with the club's owners. "Basically, we decided the time was right for a change, so I will leave Sanfrecce at the end of the season by mutual agreement," said Thomson. "The club has been great to me and I wish them all the best in the future, but I feel I have taken them as far as they can go. "If I'd have stayed next year, too, that would have been five years, and after so much time either the club changes the personnel or the manager if they want to make progress. "They haven't the money to change the players, so I have decided the time is right to move on. "I'm happy with the job I've done and I would be very interested to stay in Japan if the right offer from the right club, a more ambitious club, came along." Thomson, who played for Aberdeen and Hearts in Scotland before heading to Australia to continue his playing career, was in charge of Australia at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and also the national team.

   He joined Sanfrecce--a combination of Japanese and Italian words meaning three arrows--for the start of the 1997 season but inherited a club with a huge payroll and dwindling support. By releasing established Japanese internationals such as Takuya Takagi, Hiroshige Yanagimoto and Ryuji Michiki, plus South Korean Noh Jung Yoon and Brazilian Santos, Thomson reckons he saved the club some 700 million yen ($7 million). With the finances tight, however, he could bring in only free transfers from other clubs or promote youngsters, but he created a bright new team with a good spirit after the previous squad was riddled with "cliques and trouble-makers."

   When Sanfrecce reached the final of the Emperor's Cup--Japan's equivalent of the FA Cup--last season, Thomson viewed it as a reward for the progress the players had made since he took over. Even though Sanfrecce lost the final 2-0 to a Dragan Stojkovic-inspired Nagoya Grampus Eight, hopes were high for the new season, but Sanfrecce once again are going nowhere. They are too good to go down but have not the financial backing to mount a challenge for the championship, and Thomson knows this. "We have some very good young players in the team now, and whoever takes over will have a strong base to work from. "We have reduced the budget every season while keeping the club going forward, so I'm happy with my record. But it's time for someone new to come in."

   Under Thomson, Sanfrecce goalkeeper Takashi Shimoda and striker Tatsuhiko Kubo have both played for Japan's national team, and attacking midfielder Chikara Fujimoto has represented the Olympic under-23 team. Thomson added: "I am still enthusiastic and will stay and fight and try and win every game, but at the end of the season I will move on."

   Under Thomson, Sanfrecce finished 10th and 13th of 17 teams in the two stages of 1997; 13th and ninth of 18 in 1998; and sixth and eighth of 16 in 1999. This year they finished 10th of 16 in the first stage and are eighth after eight of the 15 games in the second stage.