INTERVIEW-Soccer-Japan bid to be top dogs without Rommel
TOKYO, July 5 |
TOKYO, July 5 (Reuters) - Japan are bidding for a third straight Asian Cup title robbed of their secret weapon now that team mascot Rommel has retired from active duty.
Miniature dachshund Rommel, or Ron for short, was once Japan's lucky charm, his talismanic presence said to be behind the team's 18-game unbeaten run before the 2006 World Cup.
But after Japan's meek exit from the tournament Rommel was stood down by his owner, Japan Football Association's chief media officer Hideto Teshima.
"That unbeaten streak was always going to end in Germany," Teshima told Reuters in an interview.
"You can't really blame Ron. Japan weren't going to win the World Cup. The time was right for him to walk away. He's about 13 now, which in human years is 91. He's getting on."
Ron, dutifully decked out in his trademark kids-size Japan shirt and with his own official accreditation hanging around his neck, enjoyed four years of red-carpet treatment.
When he touched down in Frankfurt for the World Cup, it sparked mayhem in the arrivals lobby as hundreds of Japanese photographers and TV cameras jostled to greet him.
Foreign camera crews were soon tripping over each other trying to discover what the commotion was about.
"That was scary," said Teshima. "Ron used to deal quite well with flying cargo instead of first class but it was stressful for him -- only water for 12 hours. He wasn't impressed."
Ron shot to stardom at the 2002 World Cup when he would frequently get himself entangled in electric computer cords and chew on journalists' shoes as they worked.
Former Japan coach Zico even used to keep a photo of the loveable mutt in his breast pocket when the team's lucky charm was unable to travel to matches.
"Japanese and foreign fans used to ask for hundreds of pictures a day with Ron," said Teshima. "It was stressful for him being hugged by strangers all day."
Yet Ron was a model professional.
"He knew he was famous," said Teshima. "There would be times at home if he was stressed out he would bark and bite people. But at the World Cup once he had his uniform on, it was business.
"Ron knew he would be hugged by hundreds of people and handled it well. He knew it was his work. He wore his shirt with pride."
Teshima insisted, however, that there would be no comebacks for Ron, no matter how hard the going gets for Japan at the Asian Cup, which kicks off this weekend.
"There will be no comeback for Ron," smiled Teshima. "I know a lot of celebrities and sports personalities come back but Ron's retired. He's done."
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this