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  • Canada I -- The Stephen Hart question


    The man is the Swiss army knife of Canadian soccer.

    In recent times, when an important soccer job falls open – technical director, interim coach of the national team – the Canadian Soccer Association turns to Steven Hart.

    And all Hart does is understand the problems, and ride out hard to get results.


    So what’s the catch? He’s got both jobs now. And either one of them could easily cripple somebody’s career. It’s not a stretch to say that one of the most vexing problems facing Canada’s fading, flickering, fanciful World Cup aspirations is …

    There’s only one Steven Hart. So … how good is he?

    As always in Canadian soccer, it’s hard to know for sure. He has coached very well – and successfully – at two consecutive CONCACAF Gold Cups. He was robbed of a place in the finals two years ago, and wrecked on some bad officiating and terrible ball-handling in July’s quarterfinal loss to Honduras.

    In between those two tournaments, under Dale Mitchell, Canada earned two draws and four losses as yet another World Cup qualifying dream crumbled to ashes. Check that. Dirt. Not enough heat for ashes.

    Under Hart, though, there was heat. Here’s a coach who sends Canada out in forward-looking formations, and lets them run the ball. That suits the DeRosario and DeGuzman types. Deeper, still, the players genuinely like this guy. By the end of last summer, many openly despised Mitchell.

    Begs the question, though: why not just leave Hart in charge?

    The pro-Hart argument is simple. He’s already got the job, and the results. He’s already on the payroll, too, and we all know how comically little money the CSA raises for itself.

    But the anti-Hart arguers have merit, too. Very limited experience as a head man, and the Gold Cup is a watered-down splash pool compared to the heat and hatred of battling for a place in the World Cup. Perhaps a more established general – who would cost a lot more money – would have a better chance of guiding Canada to glory.

    There’s also the issue of Hart as technical director. After two decades of astonishing bureaucratic neglect, the player development system in Canada is a shambles. The Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC aren’t even waiting for Ottawa to act. Both clubs have started their own extensive academy systems, and are beginning to reap results.

    Hart – bless him! – gets it. He knows people are frustrated, and why. He’s ready to work with any and everyone to set up systems to more reliably turn today’s under-10s into tomorrow’s World Cup squad. In that sense, he is all but irreplaceable.

    My “It’s Called Football” colleague Ben Rycroft wrote a fine piece last month, about why Hart must not be given the head coach job permanently. But effective player development needs two things desperately. A strong overall vision, and money. Hart has the vision, but unless the CSA has signed a gajillion dollars worth of backroom corporate sponsorships no one out here yet knows about, there is punishingly close to no money.

    Ah, but if Canada ever qualified for the World Cup? That would bring in oceans of money. Torrents. Floods. It’s the kind of money that could bring in a front-line World Cup coach – but we don’t get it until we’re already there.

    Which leaves us – still – with Steven Hart doing two jobs.

    So why not … let him? Even if the CSA plans to hire a so-called real coach, this is not the time to do it. It’s a good eighteen months until the run-in to the next Gold Cup, which is the natural springboard to World Cup qualifying. Given there will be no meaningful games, why not let Hart run the squad while he continues to lay the groundwork for his new player development vision?

    He’s a fine leader. A year from now, he may well have enough reforms in motion, he could step aside from the tech role, and become the full-time coach of Canada. Or, if he is more needed in the TD role, that would be the perfect time to go coach-shopping on the international market.

    Perhaps the only good thing about Canada’s latest World Cup faceplant is it bought us some time. Whatever combination of happy chance and bad bureaucracy threw Hart into two crucial roles simultaneously may, in spite of itself, have gotten it right.

    We’ll examine this deeper in part two, focusing on the CSA.

    For now, who do you think should coach Canada in the next World Cup cycle?


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