World Cup 2022: Canada boss John Herdman says he will pinch himself in Qatar

Tajon Buchanan celebrates after scoring in the 4-0 win over Jamaica that saw Canada reach their first men’s World Cup in 36 years
Host Country: Qatar Appointment: November 20-December 18 Cover: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Day-to-day TV programsFull coverage details

John Herdman admits that, just for a second, he will have to pinch himself when he sends his Canadian team to face Belgium in their first men’s World Cup final match in 36 years.

Going up against the world’s second-ranked team, which includes Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, is a tough task, even when your own team includes Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, two of the best young talents playing in Europe.

But consider Herdman’s background.

A 47-year-old from the northeast steel town of Consett with no playing experience who only became a coach when he took charge of a local under-11 team as part of his prize money of the Duke of Edinburgh when he was a teenager. and emigrated to New Zealand in his twenties when he realized there was no chance he would have an opportunity in the professional game in England.

“I’m going to pinch myself,” Herdman said of Canada’s Group F opener at the 44,000-capacity Al-Rayyan Stadium on November 23.

In New Zealand, Herdman moved from being head of coach education to head of the women’s national team, where he began to build his reputation. Then it was in Canada, where he led the women’s team to successive bronze medals at the Olympics, before moving on to the men’s game and securing the country’s second appearance at the World Cup.

He accepts that his unconventional journey brings an element of impostor syndrome. But Herdman doesn’t think that’s exclusive to him.

“Everyone suffers from it at some point,” he said.

“I remember first flying to Vancouver thinking I was going to attend a practice session with the greatest of all time in her craft, Christine Sinclair, and that I had never worked with this type of athlete before and how was I going to do this?

“But I was listening to a podcast where Hugh Jackman was talking about impostor syndrome. I just thought if Wolverine could have it, so could I! I’m not ashamed to admit it and I’m sure I I will feel that when De Bruyne passes in front.

“But if you’re willing to admit those kinds of things, you work harder to fill the gaps and innovate.”

Canada boss John Herdman celebrates a goal against Jamaica in a World Cup qualifier
John Herdman was born in Consett, County Durham, and is a former Sunderland youth academy manager.

Canada’s progress to Qatar has been smoother on the pitch than off.

A dispute in June over payments forced a friendly match with Panama to be abandoned in the short term and although matches have since taken place, the relationship between Herdman and his team and Canada Soccer remains difficult.

Anything to distract the team from Herdman is a shame.

That he moved from the women’s team to the men’s team was extremely controversial in Canada. To then state the belief that his team would qualify for Qatar was bold.

“You have to commit to doing everything,” he said. “I’ve always been clear that we’ll be on the podium with the women’s team. With the men, nobody ever said ‘we’re going to qualify’ before. One of the senior guys said ‘you put a noose around your neck”. My response to this was “good”. If I engage the spirit, players will see this – and the process, systems and style of play – and they will believe. “

It probably wasn’t until day eight of a 14-game final qualifying group that it became clear Canada had a realistic chance of playing in its first World Cup since 1986.

Sergei Rodionov of the USSR holds the ball against Gerry Gray of Canada during the 1986 World Cup
Canada reached the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, where they lost to France, Hungary and the Soviet Union

In front of 44,000 spectators on a freezing but memorable night in Edmonton, in a game dubbed ‘Iceteca’, when the temperature at kickoff was -9°C and the field had to be cleared of snow to allow it to Going forward, Canada beat Mexico 2-1. It was their first qualifying win over El Tri since 1976 and took them top of the group, a position they were never to lose.

“The Concacaf teams will do everything to qualify, but we would literally roll out the red carpet for the teams,” Herdman said.

“But this is our terrain. We can control that and change mentalities. When we go to Mexico, we go to altitude, to the Aztecs, with the heat. So when Mexico came here, it was on a terrain plastic and -13 to a point. There’s a phrase ‘get Concacaf-ed’. Well, we did that in Mexico for the first time.”

Canada’s comfort blanket comes from the fact that its presence in Qatar should not be unique. They are one of three co-hosts – along with the United States and Mexico – of the 2026 tournament and are expected to be automatically awarded a place by world governing body Fifa.

Nevertheless, doing better than in 1986, when they failed to score a goal or get a point, is required.

That shouldn’t be too difficult, especially as Bayern Munich’s Davies has recovered from a heart condition that sidelined him for three months earlier this year.

Davies is unquestionably the pin-up of Canadian football. And Herdman believes the 22-year-old can have a major influence on the development of the game in a country he has called home since 2005, when he arrived as a refugee after his parents fled war-torn Liberia. the war, initially for Ghana, where he was born.

“He was a game changer,” Herdman said. “He symbolizes the new Canada.

“A lot of people in Canada don’t find an outlet, so Alphonso has become the portal for them to express themselves and enjoy football.

“He’s a generational talent. He’s special.”

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Host country: Qatar Dates: 20 November – 18 December Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Full coverage details

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