By now the story is the stuff of urban legend in Canadian soccer circles. Facing the biggest game in years and playing the first meaningful game in Toronto in a generation, the senior men’s national team was struggling to find its grove against Jamaica in the opening game of the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Everyone understood that a win was vital. Yet, allegedly, when the Canadian team entered the dressing room for its halftime talk, then manager Dale Mitchell disappeared into the coach’s room without a word. There he sat for the full 15 minutes.

No adjustments. No speech. No coaching. The Canadian team was left to their own devices in the biggest international game that most had ever played.

The result was a tepid 1-1 draw that, when combined with a loss to Honduras in Montreal days later, all-but-eliminated Canada from South Africa barely after the qualifying round had started.

This story circulated around the team for the rest of the qualifying campaign. It was used as a weapon by Mitchell’s detractors in an effort to remove him as coach. It was widely suggested that those efforts were coming from inside the dressing room, which was led by a small group of senior players that did not care for how Mitchell ran the team.

It’s important here to stress that this was the stuff of rumour and innuendo. It’s never been proven that Mitchell failed to provide leadership on that crucial day. However, that the rumour was so pervasive does illustrate a truism about the Canadian men’s team—for more than a decade there has been something rotten around the side.

It’s hard to imagine a team less successful with fewer people taking responsibility and more people trying to pass the blame onto someone else for the failings. With Canada, it’s always the other guy’s fault.

Flash forward to the last days of 2012. With the reek of the 8-1 embarrassment to Honduras still hanging in the air, borderline international Olivier Occean decided to go off on departed head coach Stephen Hart in an interview with Radio Canada.

He said: “Looking at the training sessions it wasn’t really top and lacked professionalism. He was like an amateur and did not seem to know how to manage the team. The sad thing is that we had a great group of players.”

We’ll give him a tiny little bit of credit for at least being upfront about it. However, to hear a player—particularly a player that had as many red cards as goals in the semi-final stage of qualifying—try to place the blame elsewhere is a bit much.

The timing of Occean’s remarks stands out. Stephen Hart is one of the few people involved that has taken responsibility for the outcome. And he did so quickly after the fact, with a dignity that we all should hope to emulate if even in a similar situation.

Hart probably wasn’t up to the task. He struggled to make in-game adjustments and the team clearly wasn’t psychologically prepared to deal with the hostile environment they faced in Panama and Honduras.

But, do you know who else wasn’t up the task? Occean and the rest of the “great group of players” that lost by seven goals to Honduras. Bluntly put, it wasn’t Hart that was marking Jerry Bengtson that day. Hart wasn’t the one sent off for violent conduct against Cuba either. No, that was Occean. José Mourinho could have been managing Canada this cycle and it’s unlikely the result would have been much different.

The Canadian players have demonstrated time and time again that they aren’t skilled enough and lack the mental strength of past generations of Canadian players to make up for that skill deficiency with some good old fashioned effort.

Sadly, until Occean and other members of Canada’s Selfish Generation start to look in the mirror and take some responsibility for the unforgivable failings of this program, nothing will ever change.

Comments (21)

  1. I think that “Canada’s Selfish Generation” is a great name for this bunch.

  2. Well put. But what do you mean by “borderline international” in referring to Occean?

    • 26 caps at age 31 = borderline to me

      • But that also speaks to the dysfunction of our program. We awarded more caps at striker to a career nomad who would struggle to play more than 10 games for any given club before they wanted to get rid of him.

        Why is everything upside down for the MNT? The nut-job ends up being your 1-in-two goal scorer and guys who are playing much better at club level are completely marginalized.

        • People forget that Occean’s career has been marginal until just recently. It wasn’t long ago he couldn’t get a game in Norway and was chucked to the scrap heap. It looked like his career was over.

          His renaissance in the twilight of his career has been somewhat of a surprise.

          • His Norway career was hot and cold, but either way he still had some good years when he wasn’t given any consideration.

            Now playing striker in Norway in general might be marginal by broader standards, but compared to the CMNT talent pool at the time it compared very favorably.

      • Okay, but be wasn’t a marginal player in the last WCQ cycle. He was one of our key players, which actually reinforces your point, in my mind, of his lack of responsibility in this whole thing.

  3. Awesome piece Duane! You nailed the head on this one, this group of players are selfish and a complete overhaul of the senior men’s side is needed…people like Occean need to disappear into obscurity.

  4. I think it’s erroneous to place the blame on our current squad in any way for the failings of the Canadian soccer program. If you look at any and every successful international team, there is one thing you will find in common; a strong emphasis on development at the youth level.

    Now, what it is that prevents the men’s team from finding the same success as the women’s is beyond me. Perhaps the competition level is just that much higher in men’s football, while the men’s program are also just not making the extra effort and dedication to take things to the next level.

    Still, the core of the problem remains at the youth level. We do not identify talent early enough, we do not train promising young players well enough, nor quickly enough, and when we do, we provide no opportunity for unity amongst the players so that they can develop together and form the kind of chemistry that would make this team a success.

    To blame Occean, or even his generation or the coaches or any other INDIVIDUAL in this program would be as erroneous as blaming Icarus for plummeting into the sea. Sure, he may have flown a bit too close to the sun, but if he wings were not bound with wax, they he would have much less reason to fear.

    The culture of football needs to change in his country, and in order for us to do that, one of the first thing that needs to happen is that Canadians on the whole need to actually WANT to succeed at more than just hockey. Given that the years of Canadian hockey dominance are coming to a close as the rest of the world catches up to us, it might be time for us to start putting the proper effort into encouraging male and female athletes of ALL sports to excel and providing the infrastructure necessary for them to compete at a top level.

    • “Now, what it is that prevents the men’s team from finding the same success as the women’s is beyond me. ”

      The women have bigger gonads and hearts.

    • Ghett0, you are one of the few that get it. Unfortunately, far too many, including the author of this article are looking for scapegoats and instead actually feed this blame-machine they are bemoaning. Theirs is an opinion of a fan and novice that have no real idea how to improve things.

  5. I agree with everything in this article. I do not believe anyone should blame anybody else but themselves, but let’s be honest and you did point this out Hart was never experienced enough and looked lost, but you are correct the Hunderous game is on the players.

    • We have to get over this whole “everybody blame yourself and nobody else” culture. In many ways, it really is just a cop-out in the form of acting sorry then continuing to do the same thing all over again. It’s politically correct, but otherwise lacking and frankly even more gutless than the potentially self-serving nature of Occean’s comments.

      I’m not saying the players shouldn’t share the blame. But it seems like everyone’s suffering from ADHD and wants to distill our issues down to one problem. “Hey maybe the players are uncoachable! It’s their fault!”

      We’re not going to improve this program by putting blinders on and just looking at one aspect (player attitudes, youth development, # of friendlies, coaching quality). We should simultaneously be trying to improve as many areas as we can.

  6. At this point, we are in rebuilding mode. We should look forward and change what we can, not look back and blame players who sacrificed more than any of us to see Canadian soccer succeed. Occean’s comments should lead us to question the persistently pathetic level of CMNT coaches. That is one area where we can undoubtedly, measurably improve vastly.

    NO MORE AMATEUR CMNT COACHES, Ever Again.

    • Armin Veh, Wolfgang Wolf, Stephen Hart. Which one doesn’t below?

      • er, belong. Hamburg, Wolfsburg, Stuttgart, Kaiserslautern, Halifax King of Donair. Again, which one doesn’t belong? While he may not be faultless, Occean does have a point.

        • Hey man, Halifax King of Donair dominated the Nova Scotia soccer landscape for quite awhile. That has to count for something.. right?

  7. Think the “Great One” would be up for coaching our team? He seems to like challenges? :)

  8. “José Mourinho could have been managing Canada this cycle and it’s unlikely the result would have been much different.”

    No. Mourinho would have taken this team to the World Cup. It’s simple.

    You. Park. The. Bus.

    • “You. Park. The. Bus.”

      Lol.

      Except that the “supposedly knowledgeable fans” would be proclaiming it a master class, but if it was Hart, Mitchell, or Yallop doing the same strategy it would be completely pissed on as “amateur.”

      Look, there are a number of factors contributing to this clusterf*ck but among the supporters there are usually the big three:

      Number 1, by a landslide: bad coaching
      Number 2: poor back up players and questionable starters (related to number one, I suppose): how many times in previous WCQs or recent GCs did I hear the blame being placed on the whipping boy(s) du jour as opposed to the lack of delivery from our best players?
      Number 3: bad reffing/CONCACAF conspiracy (not on display this time around, unless you feel that we were screwed because of Occean’s red card vs Cuba)

  9. haha, well said.

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