1986. El Diego owned the Mexico World Cup, but 1986 was also significant for another reason - Canada were there. They hadn't been before, and they haven't been since. Any reason for optimism? Welcome to IBWM Caleb Cousens.
It can be frustrating being a Canadian that loves football.
We are the second richest nation in CONCACAF, yet we lose to countries that many Canadians have never heard of. We are ranked eighth in FIFA’s CONCACAF rankings behind Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Panama. On the FIFA World Rankings, we are in a miserable eighty-fifth place behind Libya, FYR Macedonia, Jordan, Gabon and several others.
A common excuse for the poor performance of Canadian football is that we do not have the population of countries like the United States or Mexico, but we have more than ten times the people that Jamaica and Panama do and over thirty times the people of Trinidad and Tobago. Therefore, in theory, qualification for a World Cup should be an achievable task. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, it is not.
Maybe it is that we are just a hockey nation (and a damn good one too), but that is unfounded, as more children in Canada play football than hockey so our football teams have a greater player pool to choose from than our hockey teams.
When Sir Alex Ferguson was asked about Canadian football and what is stopping us from reaching our potential, the legendary coach said:
"First of all, you need a competitive league. Over the years, you've involved yourself in the MLS and I can understand that, but the size of the country makes it difficult," he said. "For instance, a great benefit of English football and European football is little distance travelling-wise. You can move about; fans can travel."
Ferguson also mentioned the lack of opportunities for youth to play, as they get older.
"The problem with it, of course, is when the kids stop playing soccer, and that's even happening in the USA now," he said. "There's nowhere for them to go when they get to 16 years of age.”
"In England, you can leave school, say, at 16 years of age, you can get into a district league, and you can get amateur leagues, you can get semi-professional, and you can get the professional league."
So we have a few excuses, but maybe Canada looking for excuses, rather than solutions, is part of the problem with our great nation and the sport of football.
There are signs though that Canada is learning. More and more Canadian players are plying their trade in Europe, which is vital to Canada becoming a better and more respected footballing nation. The most notable Canadians currently in Europe, Jonathan De Guzman - who is the central attacking and creative figure for Mallorca in La Liga (although he has opted to play for Holland at Under 21 level) - and - a twenty-year-old midfielder who has made a few appearances for Blackburn in the English Premier League - are leading the way, but there are others.
Hoilett leads a promising group of Canadians in what may be one of our best generations of players ever. Striker Marcus Haber (21) is with West Bromwich Albion (although he is currently on loan at St. Johnstone in Scotland) joins Gavin McCallum (23) of Lincoln City and Niall Cousens (19) of Slavia Praha (although he is on loan at Hlucin FC) in a group that could be very successful. All of them having plenty of experience of playing in Europe at a young age. They are just a few of a very large group of Canadians playing in leagues all over the world which is a good sign, Canadian players seem to be taking football more seriously.
The Canadian Major League Soccer teams have got it right and may be the most forward thinking clubs in Canada. The Whitecaps FC, based in Vancouver, will be in the MLS next year and they have adopted a European style of training and coaching that should translate into a decent first season in North America’s premier league.
One of the first moves made by the Whitecaps owners (one of whom is NBA player Steve Nash) after getting a team in the MLS was to hire Paul Barber as Chief Executive of the club. Paul is the former Executive Director of Tottenham Hotspur and Director of Marketing and Communications for The Football Association in England. Barber’s technical know-how and experience will be invaluable in building the club. This is the type of move that will help Canada make a step toward being contenders for World Cup qualification in the coming years.
Another example of something that the Whitecaps have done right is hiring a European coach. Teitur Thordarson has coached in Sweden and in Ligue 1 in France. He also brings experience, having played as a striker in his native Iceland as well as Sweden, France and Switzerland. Thordarson managed over one hundred goals in his career including coming fourth in Ligue 1’s scoring charts while at Lens. He was also coached by Gerard Houllier and Arsene Wenger during his four years in France. You won’t find this sort of record or experience on many other sides in the MLS and it should have a positive effect on the long-term form of the club if not right away.
Toronto FC have made similarly sharp moves, most notably was their hiring of former Germany and Bayern Munich manager, Jürgen Klinsmann. The German legend and his sports marketing company Soccer Solutions were brought in as consultants by Toronto to rebuild the organization from the ground up.
This hiring of experienced and winning professionals can only be good for Canadian football, so do not despair Canadian footy fans, our time is coming and maybe sooner than we think!
If you would like to read more from Caleb, please visit Gaffers Corner.