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Johal: John Herdman’s move to men’s team could leave both sides in disarray

John Herdman’s sudden move to coach Canada’s men could wind up backfiring for both programs. (Getty Images)

VANCOUVER, B.C. – You don’t know what you’ve got, till it’s gone. John Herdman and the Canada women’s national soccer team have separated. In a shock move, Canada Soccer named John Herdman the new coach of the Canada men’s national soccer team on Monday. He replaces outgoing manager Octavio Zambrano, hired in March 2017.

Kenneth Heiner-Møller will immediately take over the role as coach of the women’s team. The 46-year-old Dane had been as an assistant coach with Herdman since 2015.

Herdman, 42, has never managed a men’s team, and he has not outwardly shown interest in doing so. He helped guide Canada to back-to-back Olympic bronze medals in 2012, and 2016. Now he faces a monumental task in turning around a disastrous 94th FIFA ranked Canada men’s side that hasn’t qualified for a World Cup since 1986.

The motivations for Herdman’s exit from the women’s team vary depending on who you ask. Canada, United States, and Mexico are locked in hoping to land the 2026 men’s World Cup as co-hosts. Wouldn’t it be grand for Herdman to manage two different national teams in a home World Cup? His highly motivational, confident, and larger-than-life ego would no doubt love to be the one to single handily turn the men’s program into a success.

Herdman was thought to be in the running for the vacant England women’s national team job. Sources say Herdman was the final candidate at one point, but ultimately not offered the job by the FA. This is about John Herdman’s legacy, and his belief inside, that he has the Midas touch to turn the men’s program into something similar to what has become a successful and highly regarded women’s team.

The news came as a surprise to everyone, including legendary captain Christine Sinclair. (EDIT: Sinclair clarified the following day that she had, indeed, spoken with Herdman before the announcement went public.)

If an ultimatum was delivered to Canada Soccer to keep Herdman employed or risk losing him to other possible opportunities, there should have been an exit. This screams of Herdman having Canada Soccer over the proverbial barrel. It’s not all about him, and it puts an unflattering ‘me first’ angle above the association, players, coaching staff, fans, and media.

The focus should be on Canada’s preparation for the 2019 World Cup, and 2020 Olympics. However that’s not the case. The trust and bond has been broken, and the team will look for new guidance going forward. For many, Herdman is the only coach they have known while on the national team.

The risk is, of course, that neither the Canada women’s, nor the men’s program will benefit from such an internal poaching. Herdman built the women’s team to where it is now – arguably over-performing. The men’s team is a project which will literally take years, at a minimum, to come to fruition. It also shows that no matter how progressive women’s soccer has become, there will always be a carrot to chase after a men’s national team.

Sinclair, Steph Labbe, Diana Matheson and Canada will look to pick up the pieces with new coach Heiner-Møller as 2019 World Cup Qualifying takes place at the end of 2017. Herdman might find out that players aren’t always receptive to a coach with no prior playing or managerial experience in men’s soccer. Perhaps the grass isn’t always greener.


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