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The World Cup’s other English manager

The World Cup’s other English manager


Canada has qualified for the World Cup for only the second time in their history – and it’s all been made possible by their English manager, John Herdman.

Canada has qualified for the World Cup for only the second time in their history.

It was a culmination of a phenomenal qualifying campaign which saw them top the CONCACAF group, having won eight, drawing four and losing two of their matches.

Canada qualifying for a World Cup is a huge deal for a country with, let’s face it, not exactly a rich history in football.

Their only other appearance at a World Cup was in 1986 – in which they were statistically the worst performers of that tournament – and they did win the gold in football at the 1904 summer Olympics.

There were three teams in that Olympics.

Two of those teams represented the USA.

But that’s Canadian football of old – now, it’s a completely different proposition, and it really matters.

Craig Forrest, who spent his playing career in England but played 56 times for the Canadian national team, was speechless on television as he tried to express how much qualifying meant to him.

I got no words… I honestly have no words. So many bad times, so many down times, I’m just broke up. It’s the most amazing thing. 

Sportsnet Canada

Canada’s star player, Alphonso Davies, who was out injured for their qualifiers, watched the game whilst streaming himself on Twitch – which he’s also become known for. He reacted to watching his side qualify with tears streaming down his face…

It’s truly amazing… you don’t understand how long it’s been…

Alphonso Davies Twitch

It’s an incredible achievement, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of their English manager, John Herdman.

John Herdman’s name will probably mean very little to most football fans in the UK.

He’s got no professional playing career to speak of, and hasn’t lived in England since he left the country when he was in his mid-20s, over two decades ago.

He grew up in the small town of Consett in County Durham, and at the age of 16 he was living by himself on a council estate.

While he was a student and part-time lecturer at Northumbria University, he started coaching – and whilst dabbling in some semi-pro football, coaching has always been his sole focus.

As a young man, he spent time in South America studying Brazilian coaching methods.

He had his own soccer school by the time he was 23, before working for Sunderland’s academy, coaching the likes of Jordan Henderson.

In 2001, he uprooted his family to New Zealand, where he took a regional football coaching job. That opportunity eventually led to him becoming the New Zealand Women’s national team coach in 2006. 

He led that side to two World Cups and a place at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, before taking on the job as Canada Women’s national team coach.

The veterans are going to be taking on a very young Canadian side, and Tony, Canada’s young, big and aggressive, especially up top?

Every team has struggled to deal with the strength, power and resolve of the Canadian three front. 

WoSo Nostalgia

The Canadian Women’s national team has a richer history than their male counterparts – they qualified for the third placed play-off match in the 2003 World Cup, and qualified for the 2007 and 2011 World Cups.

But they failed at the 2011 tournament in Germany – performing the worst of the 16 teams there. 

Enter, John Herdman. 

They know they’re in charge of their destiny, and once they can take responsibility, and they did, they finally accepted that they failed in Germany. It was us. That was the fire lit. And when we lit that fire, there was no looking back. 

TedX Talks

Herdman got the Canadian women’s national team back on track, winning bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and getting through to the quarter-finals of the 2015 World Cup.

His reputation in the country grew in the seven years he was in charge of the women’s national team, and after a shake-up in the way the Canadian Soccer Association was approaching football at all levels, he was named the new men’s national team coach.

At the time, the Canadian men’s team were 95th in the world rankings. Later that year, John Herdman went on Canadian TV and said this…

“The players don’t want to miss out. They know that this game, then the next, then the next, are just building blocks to where we’ve got to get to, which is a team that can and will compete in 2022. I’m not looking at the team that’s going to quality here, you have to see the end in mind, we want to be that team that everyone remembers in 2022, not the team that just qualified for a World Cup.” 


He called it – three and a half years ago – that he would lead his side to qualification in this year’s World Cup. 

Canada success may come as a surprise to some, but it’s been years in the making – with John Herdman the driving force behind it. 

Their qualification is also significant because Canada is one of the three co-hosts, alongside the USA and Mexico, for the 2026 World Cup… Canada won’t even need to qualify for that one, as they get an automatic place for hosting. 

So from not qualifying in 36 years, we’re now going to see Les Rouges at two successive World Cups.

John Herdman’s dream has always been to become manager of his beloved Newcastle United – should he excel with Canada at the Qatar World Cup, it may well be time for him to finally return home, after 20 years of coaching abroad.

Today’s story was written by Andrew Butler, and mixed by Gemma Newby.