Putting soccer stories together is a satisfying way to meet lots of super people doing great things in our sport. Their thoughts and opinion come zinging in from all different directions. What a trigger many have been to dig deeper and find out more about the broader impact of what they have to say.
Whether we as journalists admit it or not, how we think and the way we put the things we write is molded and re-shaped by the people we get to meet. Some of the favorite themes of journalists are just a compilation of what we hear. Honestly, very little is original thinking.
Paul James, the football player turned soccer coach, turned soccer writer told me on more than a couple of occasions of the impossible task he had coaching Canada’s under 20’s to a respectable showing in the 2001 world championship. Sometimes as if it were a weight around his neck and on others as if revealing the secret to future success, James remains bothered by the lack of urgency in our development program moving forward.
A few years back, one magazine story I did in a series about player development led to insightful conversations with soccer academy guys like Gary Miller and Doug Ault and digging into the hard work of Lino Terra, Commissioner of the Soccer Academy Alliance of Canada. That turned out to be a big eye opener on Ontario Soccer Association charades to shut the door on real soccer development in the province and representative of nation-wide obstacles quality soccer thinkers face.
I think of one man I used to play regularly with who truly was a very good footballer and thought himself a great youth coach. He was of the opinion coaching certification was an un-necessary requirement. It was the kind of stuff we usually only discussed up at the local after a match and fear of another broken nose kept me from telling Liam it was too many pints that kept him from being a great footballer and a good coach. I learned a lot from the guy though.
Most recently, writing the weekly tour of Canada’s CONCACAF competition did some of the things I have seen in action on soccer visits with an array of people in various of those countries sync with what we could, maybe should be doing back at home.
In short, many CONCACAF nations – football countries they are – know they must get all their promising talents into the dedicated, professional atmosphere at the earliest opportunity. If not, the national teams program will languish in mediocrity.
Just hanging about the hotel lobby on a World Cup qualifying campaign and talking casual soccer stuff, Bob Lenarduzzi once told me the number one difference between the Canada team he played on in the 1986 World Cup and the one he was now coaching was the number of professional playing opportunities the North American Soccer League offered him each member of the team. Nothing new and earth shattering there, but it helps having witnessed the longing on not only Bobby’s face, but a half dozen other members of that Hall of Fame team.
The point James was making about his under 20 team that failed to score and gave up nine in three matches, is a comparison of the match programs. Starting line-ups that boasted unattached, recreational club and university players pitted against teams representing a who’s who of most famous professional teams in South America and Europe. How do you go up against that?
Things have improved since the Mexico City Lenarduzzi lobby bar chat and some of it comes from Bobby’s own leadership at the Whitecaps, their academy and continuity of a professional soccer presence. Add to the Caps, a new tier two team for next season in Edmonton, continued Impact in Montreal, Toronto FC and their academy development and continuing growth of the Canadian Soccer League, we have improvement. It is still far short of enough pro options for elite player placement.
I found it very interesting to see Chelato Uclés comments last week. It will be interesting to follow how the well regarded Honduran player development coach does structuring Belizes’ new found interest in building a Central American presence. His only choice there is to base it all on developing coaches.
Thanks to new FIFA requirements, nonstop persistence of the Soccer Alliance of Canada and do-the- right-thing diligence of one OSA director-at-large, Bill Spiers, our Association and the Ontario Association will finally have to accept the SAAC as Affiliate Members. What makes that so important?
Well, we are not all that far ahead of Belize. Canada does not have enough of the pro environment Paul James was talking about to come close to even tiny El Salvador.
Let us face this one straight on though ok? Canada can foster the development of real, professional coaches. A couple hundred of them. It is a manageable task. The “league of professional coaches”.
The SAAC has done it. Not the Canadian Soccer Association, Ontario Soccer Association and a good guess is every other provincial association can match SAAC membership’s water-mark for highly trained coaches. Their recommended minimum requirement exceeds the National Training Center requirement!
With all due respect Gov, you cannot keep tipping pints with my old buddy Liam.
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