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  • Things that are predictable: On Teal Bunbury's injury and Canadian reaction


    Earlier today, former Canadian youth international Teal Bunbury suffered an injury during a pre-season scrimmage against Houston. By coincidence, the injury came in a play involving Canadian international Andrew Hainault.

    A Canadian injuring Bunbury, a player that left the national team set-up for the greener pastures (in his opinion) of the United States, however inadvertently, was a bit too much for some Canadian national team followers to ignore. Words like “karma” were thrown around. Obviously cheering an injury isn’t very nice and today’s happenstance was just that. Still, only the most naive would have not expected it.

    No thinking fan of the game wants to see a player injured (and Bunbury’s injury turned out to be less serious than originally thought), but you cannot take the emotion out of the thing. So, the predictable criticism and moral outrage against those that took joy in Bunbury’s injury is a bit misplaced. It’s wrong to wish harm on him, but it’s not wrong to dislike him.


    Bunbury made a decision that affected people. He made a decision to walk away from a program that had invested time, energy and money in him. Making it worse, he lied about his intention multiple times leading up to the final decision. There are consequences to that.

    This is, unfortunately, not a unique situation in Canada, of course. Bunbury is just the most recent example and the only example whose father had 65 caps and 16 goals for Canada (ironically, when you consider his lineage, he’s also likely the most justified in his decision). Each player that leaves/refuses to commit makes the wound in the Canadian fan’s soul just a little rawer (don’t even mention Junior Hoilett’s name to us. He doesn’t exist. He won’t until we see him in red. We’re not hopeful).

    As most know, the original wound is all the fault of one guy. Nothing any other player does will ever come close to matching the betrayal many Canadians feel about Owen Hargreaves. Owen lied, had exceptionally tenuous connections to the country he chose and actually spent a significant amount of time in Canada.

    However, what really makes the Canadian national team fan’s blood boil regarding Hargreaves was the reaction to his decision to play for England by the traditional media and average Canadian sports fan. Not only was it accepted, it was applauded. The idea that national pride should play a role in his decision was laughed away.

    If you’ve decided to keep your loyalties with the home team here in Canada that type of attitude makes you crazy. It’s the epitome of the self-hating, Euro-poseur crap that has held the game back here for generations. Add to that the self-righteous attitude held by many Hargreaves defenders that it’s the critics that are wrong – disliking Hargreaves for choosing England over his own country is not only short-sighted, they say, it’s also un-Canadian, xenophobic.

    No one stands up for Canada. It’s a shame.

    In 2009, I wrote a column on the 24th Minute defending the right to hate Hargreaves. The Bunbury incident makes me think it deserves another read today.

    Here is what I wrote then (with some changes to reflect the time that has passed):

    (Nine) years on and Owen Hargreaves continues to be the most divisive player in Canadian football. The Calgary-born (and mostly raised) midfielder was the first high profile player to shun Canada to play for a larger country. Although there have been others since, none continue to inspire the type of visceral hate, and blind defence, as does Hargreaves.

    Those that support his decision claim that he had no choice. That the CSA was in such a mess that he was all but forced to turn away. When Mother England comes calling, as a footballer, you must respond. It was the reasonable thing to do and it’s been justified by his participation in two World Cups and one Euro.

    Those opposed view the Hargreaves, or “Whoregreaves’,” decision as the ultimate act of betrayal. They point out that he told a reporter that he would play for Canada in the months leading up to his flip and that he had never lived in England prior to playing for it. If he had gone the German route most would still be upset, but the hatred would have been less sharp – he lived in Germany for a significant portion of his youth after all. We could understand if he felt a connection to that country.

    (At the time) Ben Knight re-opened the debate with a column where he defended the decision, suggesting that it allowed him to advance his career in ways that he never would have been able to without playing for the Three Lions.

    Ben also points out that the decision was within his rights and that Canadians would be “up in arms” if the Canadian government tried to impose the same working restrictions on them as they wish upon Hargreaves. I’ll address my issue with this thinking later, but first we need to be absolutely clear about something.

    Hargreaves had every right to make the decision he did. It was within FIFA rules and, from my perspective, very few critics of his decision have ever suggested otherwise.

    However, if Hargreaves had the right to make the decision, Canadian soccer fans also have the right not to respect him for it. One of the biggest problems I have with those that defend Hargreaves (and this is a general comment, rather than one directed at Ben) is that they tend to label anti-Hargreaves opinion as being lowbrow, somehow un-Canadian. Because we are a nation of immigrants – and a progressive, accepting people – that we must quietly stand back and respect decisions like this. Not to do so is, at best, ugly, at worst, xenophobic.


    Canadians have every right to feel betrayed by an athlete that turns their back on the country that they were born into and that has provided their family a home throughout their life. Hargreaves first learned the game here. He continues to spend time here. When Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in London(in 2009) Hargreaves didn’t turn down the invitation for the photo-op, did he?

    It’s particularly frustrating to hear the “yeah-but-Canada-sucks” arguments in favour of the decision. That’s hardly the point. International football isn’t (or at least shouldn’t) be about maximizing your opportunities to play in a World Cup. Forgive my naivety, but it should be a little purer than that (and before someone jumps into the comments with the question, I’ll answer it. No, I absolutely wouldn’t have chose England if I were in his position. To do so would have been beyond cynical).

    One of the things I don’t like about Canada is the self-hate that occasionally trickles its way into conventional thinking -- this idea that you’re nothing unless you make it elsewhere. To me the Hargreaves debate reeks of that thinking. I’d suggest it’s time we evolved into a more self-confident country.

    There is also an assumption in this debate by those that support his decision that he advanced his career by doing it. Although you cannot argue against the fact that he was able to play in the World Cup and Euros (something Canada didn’t and could not provide), it’s a stretch to attribute his club success to his international play (I also don’t buy, as Ben argues, that he was England’s best player in the 2006 World Cup. He was a solid player for England, but you will have a difficult time finding anyone outside of Canada that would make the argument that he was the best player - Note - At the time this was challenged. Fine. He had a solid tournament. He's is/was hardly a star. He's a holding midfielder).

    Hargreaves was a starting player on Bayern Munich’s Champions League winning side (as a Canadian, it should be noted). He drew the attention of the English national team while there. Although I’m sure playing internationally for England didn’t hurt him, it wasn’t the only reason Manchester United took notice. In short, Hargreaves club career was just fine when he was Canadian and it would have remained just fine if he had stayed.

    It can also be argued that he could have been more if he had remained Canadian. Here, anyway. With the sport growing the way that it is in Canada, I’m sure that the corporate world would have taken notice of a Canuck playing for Man U. He could have become the first home-grown soccer superstar in the Great White North. That’s speculation, but no more than the idea that playing for England led to him playing for United is.

    As for Ben’s argument that Canadians would not stand for employment restrictions being placed on them, I’m not sure Hargreaves has any employment restrictions, seeing that he is playing in England. And Canadians do have employment restrictions placed on them. You can’t just up and get a job in the UK. So, I don’t follow that argument.

    The debate may finally be coming to a close as Hargreaves is rumoured to be done as a player -- his injuries driving him out of Manchester United’s plans. Some Canadians will be upset by that. Others won’t shed a tear (other than for the fact that they never got a chance to express their feelings to him in a game on Canadian soil). Most Canadians (as opposed to Canadian soccer fans) will likely react indifferently to the news. To me that’s the most disappointing thing of all about Hargreaves’ decision.

    He could have been so much here. Instead he’ll be remembered as an average holding midfielder that had moderate success playing for England for a couple of cycles before injuries cut his career short by a couple years.

    It isn’t much of a legacy.

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