By: Eugenio Garro
A step back or a step in the right direction—only time will tell when it comes to John Herdman taking the reins of the Canadian men’s soccer program.
The men’s program has been underwhelming in competition in the CONCACAF division (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) for years, struggling to perform when it matters and failing year after year.
Late Monday night, the men’s team fired head coach Octavio Zambrano after a short stint. What was surprising to many including Tyrrell Meertins, host of the YouTube channel The InnerViews, was the timing of the move and the person they chose to take over.
“It kind of seems the CSA (Canadian Soccer Association) is valuing the men’s game more than the women’s game because they could’ve waited to make this decision and for them to do it now is just really bold,” he said. “For the CSA to really make that type of move it’s really surprising.”
Herdman, 42, was named the women’s national team head coach in 2011. He has since turned the program around, whether it is building a youth system or motivating his team to perform on the highest level. Under Herdman, the women’s program earned their top two finishes ever, with bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
Meertins says although it was surprising to see Herdman named the head coach of the men’s team, he believes the real surprise was for Herdman himself.
“I think it’s more of a surprise for Herdman because one he was the coach of the women’s team and two the fact that now where does that program go,” said Meertins. “Zambrano has only been the national team manager for less than a year and we are expecting him to lead in a new era and bring in new blood and start the campaign for 2022 then this happens.”
Speechless right now….
— Christine Sinclair (@sincy12) January 9, 2018
Meertins believes one of Herdman’s main challenges is going to be adapting to the men’s style of play but there’s also more to it than the game itself.
“It’s going to be very difficult. One, you’re dealing with egos and two, just different environments you’re going into. When you think of CONCACAF we think of the hostile environments Canada has had to go into in the past like trips to Panama, Honduras and Mexico,” he said.
“Those are not easy environments and he has to adapt quickly. I think it’s going to be a bit of a challenge. The women’s game is totally different than the men’s game and its going to be really interesting to see how he adapts.”
Meertins also said Herdman has to gain respect from the players and it comes down to how they cope with him coming in.
“When we look at what Zambrano has done over the past 10-11 months it felt as if we were going somewhere,” he said. “We were competing, we were playing some positive soccer and it looked like there was some progress.
“But right now this move just sets things back. When you think we are making one step forward it looks like we are taking two steps back with this decision.”
The women’s team—which has been showing up the men’s team internationally for years and have created a winning atmosphere—will now settle for watching their old bench boss try to pick up the pieces left by Zambrano.
“It’s a big blow. How they react to that is going to be tough. For them you have to feel betrayal shock and what lies next,” said Meertins. “I think the women will be hurt and I think a lot of the anger and disappointment will be left with the soccer association because they didn’t have to do it now.”
One player that was invited to the Canadian training camp by Zambrano was Michael Krezminski, a former Humber College student and soccer player, who said he was a fan of the coach.
“Since he (Zambrano) took over I feel like Canada had some life in soccer again,” said Krezminski. “I never even watched a men’s soccer game until he became the coach because there was actually something to look forward to watching.”
He too admits that the transition from the women’s game to the men’s game will be difficult.
“He’s definitely got to adapt somehow to a quicker much more physical soccer,” said Krezminski about Herdman. “I don’t know his coaching history, but if he’s only coached women’s soccer, it’s a big transition.”