After long journey Canada's Herdman has arrived

By Steve Keating

DOHA, Nov 21 (Reuters) – Back in the World Cup for just the second time and first in 36 years, Canada arrive in Qatar as the designated underdog – a role coach John Herdman knows all too well having played the part his entire career.

At the 1986 World Cup Canada failed to score a single goal and there are some betting that the 500/1 longshots, who are grouped with the second ranked Belgium, 2018 finalists Croatia and Morocco, might not find the back of the net again in Qatar.

But then few would have bet on the boy from the hard streets of Consett in England’s industrial north east finding his way onto soccer’s most glamorous stage.

Herdman has plenty of respect for the challenge ahead but is itching for the fight.

“I think for the first time in a long time I have come to the place where I wanted to be as a coach and I know my players this is the moment they want to be in as well,” said Herdman, who will send his men out to face Belgium on Wednesday.

“They feel we can genuinely get in and have a right fight with these teams and be that team that overachieved and find our X-factor.

“To upset some teams, I get out of bed for that.”

The career path of a soccer coach is often a nomadic one but Herdman’s journey has taken him to some of sports more remote outposts.

From Invercargill near the southernmost tip of New Zealand to snowy Edmonton in Canada’s Great White North Herdman has coached kids, women and men, methodically building a reputation as an innovator and master motivator.

Such a road would have left many weary or jaded but Herdman remains in a perpetual state of wonder.

“I still have moments I am pinching myself when we arrived in Doha here,” said Herdman. “This will be my first World Cup with the men’s team, my fifth World Cup in total, it’s going to be a hell of a ride.

“I’m going to learn a lot, I’m going to be rubbing shoulders with world class coaches like (Belgium coach) Roberto Martinez and for me that’s where I want to be on that razor’s edge and let people from Consett County Durham know that anything is possible.”

COACHING PASSION

Herdman grew up dreaming of playing professional soccer but reality soon struck for the 5-foot, 6-inch (1.70m) battler.

His love for the game, satucash however, was not dimmed and he directed that passion into coaching.

Still a teenager, he would secure his coaching certificate and by the time he was in university was operating his own Brazilian style soccer school franchise.

That would lead to a position at the Sunderland academy where he was confronted by the old world coaching establishment.

“It was an ex-England player and he said, ‘yeah, you are a great teacher, coach, just a shame that you’ll never coach at that highest level because you have never experienced standing out there in a centre circle in front of 50,000’,” Herdman told Sportsnet.

“It was like a pat on the back and a slap in the face at the same time and reminding you of your place in the game.

“And I was like, ‘nah I’m not having this’.”

Herdman charted a new course that took him to New Zealand and a string of coaching successes guiding the country’s under-20 and senior women’s teams twice each to World Cups.

Canada Soccer was impressed enough to hire him to fix a dysfunctional Canadian women’s team, taking a squad that lost all three games at the 2011 World Cup and steered them to back-to-back Olympic bronze at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Games.

A return to England had been on the cards for Herdman when Soccer Canada in 2018 made the bold decision to offer him the chance to lead an underachieving men’s team and has them back in the World Cup for the first time in 36 years.

“I think this country never believed in us because we’ve given them nothing to believe in,” said Herdman, after Canada beat Jamaica in March to qualify for Qatar.

“They believe now.” (Reporting by Steve Keating in Doha. Editing by Christian Radnedge)

7 months ago