The year is 1986 and a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina have just beaten England in the FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finals at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
Watching the match back in England is an 11-year-old boy by the name of John Herdman, tears streaming down his face. Fast forward 35 years to 2021 and Herdman finds himself pitchside at the legendary stadium, coaching Canada in a World Cup qualifier against Mexico, memories flooding through his head.
He left away from that game inclination glad for his players, and not without valid justification. The Englishman has revamped Canadian football, changing over the men’s public group into the vibes of the CONCACAF qualifying contest for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. On the way to garnish the standings, the Canadians beat both Mexico and USA and are currently expecting more outcome on the planet finals.
“It was strange to “Be there. I watched Diego Maradona against England with my father in the receiving area. It was the second I went gaga for football,” expressed Herdman in a meeting with Sky Sports, contrasting his two Estadio Azteca encounters. “It very well may be an overwhelming spot yet I was glad for how the group went for Mexico right off the bat.”
Maradona planted a seed that has borne rich fruit, albeit at the side of the pitch rather than on it. After trying and failing to make it as a player, Herdman has found his true vocation as a coach.
Central to his journey to the dugout was a trip he made to Brazil when he was still learning the ropes. It was there, in the land of the five-time world champions, that he discovered that football is art. His learnings from that trip opened doors to him in England, firstly at an academy focused on the values of Brazilian football, and then as a development coach at Sunderland’s youth academy.
Herdman was destined for success outside his home country, however. Impressing as New Zealand’s national women’s team coach first of all, he then went to Canada and achieved great things with their women’s team.
To say that he has turned Canadian football on its head is no misrepresentation. Not happy with catapulting the country’s ladies into the worldwide tip top with consecutive Olympic bronze decorations and a Pan American Games gold award, he has carried solidarity and agreement to the men’s group in his four years in the post, transforming them into an imposing outfit.
“He’s been a huge factor in what we’ve done. He’s very good at building team chemistry, and he’s very humble. There are a lot of coaches who seem to want to seem bigger than their team, but he always gives us the credit and prepares us in such detail for every game.
“He knows what he’s doing. He’s got different tactics for every game.”
“He’s come up with a new kind of football for Canada. We have spirit, belief and energy.”
Rebuilding brick by brick, Herdman changed the country’s football philosophy. Explaining his approach, he said: “One of the comments was that we did not have the heart when it really mattered. It became all about me too quickly. We were going to start with some tactical work, but tactics mean nothing if they do not trust the person next to them or their coach.”
A good World Cup campaign will be crucial for Canada. The country is co-hosting the 2026 world finals with Mexico and the USA, and their English coach has much more weighing on his shoulders than helping his players find a way to goal.
“We need World Cups to change the culture,” he added. “This country is ready to build off a World Cup. It is ready to go.”