All good sports stories share certain similarities.
– adversity must have been overcome.
– for there to be good there must be bad.
– The protagonist must not be highly favoured to succeed
– the story must end in triumph.
The 2012 Canadian Soccer News Person of the Year meets all four of those criteria.
Yes, it was quite the year for John Herdman. The Englishman, who came to Canada via New Zealand, led the Canadian women from the depth of despair following the 2011 World Cup, to become the darlings of the nation in winning Olympic bronze in London.
He was a breath of fresh air following the final days of Carolina Morace (winner of the 2010 CSN Person of the Year, it must be said). Morace quit on the women and shamefully walked away from players who had shown her remarkable loyalty prior to the World Cup disaster. She left the team in shambles, an emotional mess that would have been lucky to qualify for the Olympics, let alone win a medal there.
When Herdman was hired many criticized the move. It was said that he was too inexperienced, would employ "long ball" tactics, was not famous enough and that the CSA had gone cheap again in hiring a guy from New Zealand (in the early days, Herdman was almost always referred to as a New Zealander).
It turned out to be genius. Whereas Morace was a great coach who led the Canadian program out of the dark ages tactically (and thus was fully a justified pick for the ’10 Person of the Year), Herdman was a leader
He inspired the women and prepared them in a way that they had never been prepared before.
In the past Canada hoped it could win. Under Herdman it believed it would win.
Beyond the results on the pitch, Herdman also integrated himself into the country in a way that Morace never did. When he dropped to his knees at the end of the bronze medal game you knew it was sincere. When he hugged his kids following that game they were wearing Canadian kits. His accent may be Geordie, but he has a lot of hoser in him already.
Obviously, you can never really know what someone is thinking, but it certainly seems like he cares about the future of the game here.
The overall package is what tipped the scales in favour of Herdman over the only other candidate that was considered – his star player, Christine Sinclair. Ultimately, Sinclair’s brilliance is still mostly contained on the field. It was felt that Herdman’s reach extends beyond the pitch and he will more directly influence the next generation of Canadian women than Sinclair will. Herdman's influence will be pragmatic and technical, whereas Sinclair's will be inspirational.
It’s telling that when the Americans embarked on their search for a new coach that Herdman’s name was mentioned in more than a few informed places. He likely remains
the most respected young manager in the women’s game.
He’s a treasure that the CSA needs to keep and a deserving choice for our 2012 Person of the Year.