While I strongly disagree with the trite media narrative which held that Stephen Hart’s resignation as head coach of the Canadian mens national team was somehow ‘inevitable’ following Canada’s 8-1 humiliation against Honduras, I understand the choice. I also agree with Duane Rollins’ assertion that Hart would have resigned had Canada lost by a closer margin, even 1-0. The job was always to improve on CONCACAF qualifying from the last round, and while the performances were much improved, the result was the same: no Hexagonal phase, no sniff of the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
Last night however I was momentarily alarmed and annoyed by comments from Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani that improvement in the mens national team program would come about only by hiring a coach that could break the “psychological barrier” presented by the necessity of playing away in CONCACAF. I’m tempted here to side with some Canadians who reported back from travelling to Honduras that it was merely a game with an involved, cheering crowd, played in warm temperatures. Canada’s failure to bury Panama and Honduras at home whilst losing badly to them away stems from the same problem: a technically-inconsistent team. That is something the best coaching in the world cannot overcome, something that can only be addressed through grassroots change in Canada’s development pathway.
My suspicion is that we tend to exaggerate the CONCACAF effect in part because as Canadian soccer fans, we’ve watched far too many games with suspect refereeing and bad diving in away matches, behaviour that in some cases have negatively impacted the result. What we may not realize is that team’s with technically-superior players can overcome these psychological barriers when they have a lifetime of elite training to improve muscle memory, better possess the ball, and generally overcome any of these extraneous effects. It would behove anyone to go back to the previous round of CONCACAF qualifying and watch Bob Bradley’s USA perform away in difficult circumstances in Central American nations far, far more hostile to them than they are to Canadians. No one is saying playing in CONCACAF is easy; it’s just far easier when you have a player like Clint Dempsey whose finishing can make home legs count.
But any anger I had on that front subsided soon after when Montagliani moved the conversation over to player development. He had this to say, from Sportsnet:
Montagliani also stressed that one of the key issues that the CSA has to address is coaching development. To that end, he called on all provincial soccer associations to adopt the CSA’s Long-Term Player Development program (LTPD) to increase coaching standards at youth level in this country.
“It’s at the level that I think it needs some serious look at in terms of how we develop coaches,” Montagliani said.
“At the end of the day, I’m not sure how we’re going to develop coaches that are being coached by just parents. We put a player behind the eight ball when they come into our national program at the age of 14 or 15, because they haven’t been given the proper skill sets technically to deal with the game.
“That all comes from the lack of proper coaching at that young age group.”
This is why some of the recent drive-by, populist swipes against the CSA in light of the loss drove me to despair this past week. The more progressive voices for reform within the association have only recently come close to instilling the changes many of us had known for years were long-overdue in this country. More work needs to be done, and certainly it would be good for the CSA to be more heavy-handed on forcing provincial associations to get in line, rather than politely asking.
This, in combination with the viability study into League II which will reveal the workable conditions for national table of some sort, all ahead of the hiring of a new technical director (far, far more important than the head coach role in many ways), reveals an organization only just at the beginning of a long, difficult process of wrenching the Canadian game out of continued mediocrity.
So you can either continue to despair or whine about it, or you can get better acquainted with the literature, and get involved. I’ll have more on that next week.
Barney Ronay with a very even-handed take on the Duncan Jenkins/Jen Change affair at Liverpool, which is actually a well-disguised cop out [Guardian].
Sir Alex Ferguson rather inadvisedly refers to Jason Roberts’ refusal to wear a Kick It Out shirt against Liverpool on Saturday as a “sheep wandering off” [Independent].
Meanwhile John Terry is gung-ho about the initiative, which, well, means something I’m sure… [ESPN].
Susy Campanale Mocks the Quotes this week in Serie A football [Football Italia].
La Liga Loca previews this weekend’s action in Spain [FourFourTwo].
Fifteen minutes of Pele dribbling [YouTube].