January 8 2018, Vancouver BC- Late Monday evening, soccer in Canada was shaken more than ever. Octavio Zambrano, who took over as the head coach of the Canadian men’s national team in March of last year was relieved of his duties. The man taking over the position is even more intriguing. John Herdman, who has spent the last seven years with the Canadian women’s program, will be switching programs to coach the men’s side.
OUT: Octavio Zambrano, The Mistake
After joining the Canadian program in March of 2017, Zambrano played the Canadians to a 3-2-2 record. He would lead them to the quarter finals of the Gold Cup for the first time in three cycles. The Ecuadorian played a very attacking system that attempted to harness all of the available skillsets in his top players such as Alphonso Davies, Junior Hoilett and Premier League midfielder Scott Airfield. Despite the on field success, Zambrano was reportedly not the most liked among the players. An unnamed team member claimed that Zambrano had no “personal touch” when dealing with players, rarely talking to players outside of training camps, not watching players at their clubs and seemingly refusing to bring new faces into the national team fold. Other players came out after the release and said they were displeased with the 59 year old’s training methods. The lack of personality made many players unhappy and unmotivated while with Canada.
Former Canada Soccer president Victor Montagliani appointed Zambrano as the head coach, just weeks before he left to fill the position of CONCACAF president. Montagliani wanted to get the head coach appointment completed before he moved on to his new role, so he appointed the former LA Galaxy and Metrostars man to take the reins. Although many CSA officials disagreed with the appointment, they were in a pinch as it was the only realistic option to get the position filled before Montagliani’s departure. From the start, Zambrano’s days as the national team head coach were numbered.
Zambrano helped Canada improve from being ranked 117th to a 94th in FIFA over his 10 month tenure.
IN: John Herdman. Wait, What?!
After managing the Canadian women to two Olympic bronze medals and to the quarter finals in a home world cup, John Herdman was a man with options. After the 2015 world cup, Herdman received many offers from un-named MLS clubs, as well as a top European women’s program; rumoured to be the English national team . Herdman reportedly used the England team offer as leverage to get the Canadian Men’s job. The 42 year old Englishman had expressed interest in coaching men’s football and saw an opportunity in an unsettled Canadian program.
Herdman took the Canadian women from 12th to 4th in FIFA during his tenure as their coach, and hopes to see similar improvement with the men’s side. He stresses how he was searching for his next project after the Rio Olympics, and he feels that the women’s team is at the top now and is in very good hands to continue improving with Kenneth Heiner-Moller.
“I’ve done seven years with the women’s team,” Herdman said in an interview Monday. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it with the group.
“But I’m a builder, I’m a developer. With Canada Soccer and the rest of the crew we sort of built that program back up from scratch,”
“I just feel the women’s team is there now. They’ve got the players to be successful and that’s often the hardest thing to do.”
Herdman was very popular among the Canadian women, especially veteran players such as Christine Sinclair and Diana Matheson; who have around since the beginning of the Herdman era. Many of the players spoke out on social media, relaying their shock and displeasure with the news, as well as wishing John all the best for his new job with the men.
On the women’s side, Kenneth Heiner-Moller will take over as the head coach, being promoted from his previous position as assistant to Herdman. Bev Priestman will take over Heiner-Mollers role as the assistant coach, and will also serve as the women’s EXCEL director (U15-U23).
Did the players know anything about this?
No, not at all.
The announcement was unlikely planned to come out so suddenly. A pair of reporters got wind of the story and were threatening to leak it. This meant that the CSA would have to release it Monday if they wanted the first word to be from the association. The men’s players did not receive any word on the status of their coaching situation until they found out online, and the women’s players didn’t have it much better. John Herdman spoke to the whole of the women’s national team about the moves Monday morning before the CSA made the made the announcement later in the day.
A New Challenge:
Herdman has his work cut out for him as he starts in the men’s program. He will be Canada’s first manager to manage the EXCEL program which is all male sides from the senior national team down to the under-14 level. This role as the EXCEL director is the largest anyone has ever taken on in the men’s side of Canada soccer. The Englishman will have complete control over the development of Canada’s top young talents for the years to come. For Herdman, having this role will help him train the players from a young age into a style he would like to play at the senior level. Club teams for example, will condition their youth teams to play the style their senior coach wants to. It has shown success in club teams like Barcelona and even in national sides such as Spain; two outfits who have traditionally been very successful.
Herdman’s main task will be to get Canada to a level where it can compete in world cup competition, whether that’s in 2022 by qualifying on its own merit; or 2026 when Canada will likely co-host the tournament alongside the US and Mexico . “It really is an exciting time for the men’s game and I think that’s where hopefully my skill sets come in as a strategic thinker, a person detailed with planning who can look towards 2026 but also keep one eye on 2022”
With the women’s team, Herdman acted as more than a coach. He strived to support his players with an extended professional environment when they were in camp as a number of them were without professional clubs, or playing at the college level. He would not only coach the women, but would teach them how to be true professionals in the world of football.
His role and mentality will have to change when he is with the men’s team. Every player in the men’s program currently has a professional team, whether that be at home in MLS or abroad.
The move doesn’t have the best optics, Herdman is the 13th coach to be in charge of the Canadian team in under 15 years. “There will be doubters, for sure. All I’ve got to do is make sure that I put my best effort into this.” After inheriting the program in messy fashion, it will take some time for the players and fans to trust and respect the men’s coach after what has happened.
He had amazing success with the women, but with the men; it’s a whole different ball game.