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  • Canadian coaching: The Nick Dasovic interview



    Author’s note: A year ago, Nick Dasovic was interim head coach of Toronto FC. He has also coached for the Vancouver Whitecaps, and Canada.

    A native of Vancouver and holder of a UEFA A-coaching licence, he has a unique outlook on the many significant challenges facing Canadian coaches.


    CSN: Nick, it seems to me, from all the people I’ve talked to, that one of the biggest obstacles for Canadians who want to be coaches in professional soccer is the sheer lack of jobs in Canada. And as you’ve held a lot of those jobs, I’m interested in your perspective.


    ND: Soccer’s still not a mainstream sport here. I mean, it’s getting there, but with only four professional clubs that can only employ a maximum of ten to twelve coaching staff, that right away limits the opportunities to get jobs. Now, if you look at it based upon European soccer, or if we’re in Canada, hockey infrastructure, where you’ve got your junior leagues here and then your AHL and all the rest of it, there’s places for coaches to get their feet wet and learn the trade. Unfortunately in soccer here, it’s not the same thing. It just is what it is, until we get more professional clubs. Like back in the CSL days, when we had ten, twelve teams at one point. That gave ten, twelve head coaches jobs, and say twenty-four assistant coaches jobs, and goalkeeper coaches and then managers, etcetera. It was a way not just to develop the players, but obviously the coaches.

    CSN: Remind me where you are in your own coaching qualifications.

    ND: I’ve had my UEFA A-licence now for the last six years. I am now pursuing my pro licence, which is the top of the top ones.

    CSN: So obviously you are ambitious to stay in this business.

    ND: Absolutely. I’m not just ambitious to stay in the business. I’m ambitious to keep learning. When I was doing my A-licence back in Scotland, I can remember one of the coaches saying that getting you’re a-licence doesn’t mean you’re a good coach. It gives you the opportunity to become a good coach, because without qualifications, you just cannot go forth and interview for jobs. You need the pro licence to coach in the Premiership. Now that might be ambitious, but it’s not just about going and getting another certificate. It’s about going and learning. Starting in January, this year, I’ve been participating in the UEFA pro-licence, which is based in Scotland, but we’ve been to the U-21 championships in Denmark, we’ve been to headquarters in Switzerland. We’ve talked to people who have gone through exactly what we’re going through as young coaches. So you learn a lot, and that’s what I’m really there for is to learn. Now, in the case that there’s no jobs available and I don’t find a coaching job, I’ll still be better for it. It’s part of life, but I just don’t want to sit around and be stagnant, and be happy with what certificates I have.

    CSN: That’s well said. I’ve had difficulty finding anyone other than Ray Clark (CSA director of player and coach development) who has good words about the Canadian A-licence. Do you have any thoughts on the program here, what it focuses on, and how useful it is?

    ND: You know, to be honest, I think first and foremost any coaching licence – any coaching course – gives you something. It’s what you take out of it, and how much you take out of it. When you go to a coaching course, while you’re on there, you can ask any questions you want. They’ll give you as much information. I think if there’s enough feedback from coaches that are on courses during the time they’re there, or even after, I’m sure they would also try to listen and try to dictate the course to what the coaches want. But getting back to the CSA, I don’t know what their course entitles because I’ve never taken it. Back in the eighties, I took what they called the C-licence or something. When I went to play professionally in Scotland (for St. Johnstone), I decided to taking coaching courses there, and they just suggested I start from scratch. I went right from the beginning in Scotland to, right now, hopefully, to the very end, because I wanted to be consistent in what I was doing. So I stayed with it, and then when Dick Bate was the technical director of the CSA, he said that since I had my A UEFA, I did not need to get any Canadian certificates at that point in time.

    CSN: You have had an inside look – from a coaching position – at two of Canada’s professional teams, and also the national team. Let’s start with the national team, your experience and how you felt that all went.

    ND: For me, the coaching experience started while I was still playing for the Whitecaps. Dale Mitchell got the U-20 job, and he asked me if I would come along. I was with Dale, all together, for six years – particularly in youth development for five of those years. Three world championship tournaments, one top-eight finish where we lost to Spain, beating Mexico, beating the U.S., winning qualification – we had a great time with Dale. I thought we had some really good success. It’s a different type of job. It’s definitely not day-to-day training. It’s more or less get together once every eight to ten weeks for ten to fourteen days, do your coaching and then the rest of it is basically watching DVDs, and scouting if you can possibly do so. But again, with the limited budget the CSA had, we couldn’t just continually go out and scout. A lot of it was done via DVDs. It was a great start to coaching, and I really enjoyed my time with the group that we had. It was a good learning point – going to World Cups and getting to the quarterfinals and playing in Brazil. And then we moved on to the men’s World Cup team and the Olympic team. The Olympic team was a very short job. I thought the boys did really well. We were very close to qualifying, but I learned a lot about myself and about coaching. The World Cup team was a bit of a disappointment, but the one thing I take away from everything I do in any job I have is to sit back and reflect on what I did right, but more importantly what I thought I did wrong, and what I would do differently next time.

    CSN: You played in Vancouver, both with the 86ers and Whitecaps, and found yourself coaching there as well. Obviously, the professional league game is different from the national team experience.

    ND: I didn’t spend a lot of time playing in Vancouver. I spent my last three years playing there just because I had decided to leave Europe and come back to Canada to raise a family here. Most of my professional playing time was spent in Europe. I spent more time professionally in Toronto than in Vancouver, oddly enough. I was what they want to call an assistant playing-coach in Vancouver. They didn’t want to play me as much, but I ended up basically being a player. I did very limited coaching. I became the Whitecaps’ reserve-team coach, which I was really pumped about, because it would have been my first job. But you know, you go to training sessions and you get six or seven guys out maximum. It wasn’t a great experience at that time, just because I has a lot of college kids and they were studying, etcetera. It’s still something you could put on your resume, but unfortunately I didn’t get a lot out of that one for myself.

    CSN: And then, of course, Toronto FC comes along, and that’s the opening of the door to Major League Soccer in Canada – the highest level of soccer here since the NASL folded in the eighties. You joined them a couple of years in as a youth-team coach. What were your feelings coming into the TFC job?

    ND: This came on the heels of our Olympic team failing, but I also thought that in failing, we actually did quite well. And then this opportunity came up to go to Toronto. When it was presented, I wasn’t reluctant at all. I was very much gung-ho for going there, giving it a go, and being involved with the top flight of football in Canada. I went there with great vision, wanting to do things. At the same time, though, I came in and had to work with people I didn’t know – John Carver and Chris Cummings and that group. I got on with them very greatly, but in the beginning, it’s difficult to be involved with a group that don’t know you that well. That’s one big thing you sit back and learn what you would do differently, what you would do better. One thing I don’t really want to get involved with again is being put onto a coach, rather than him picking you. Unfortunately for me, I was kind of put onto John Carver – and Preki. Maybe I wasn’t their first choice, and right away it doesn’t cause a great, great … you know, I had nothing against them. We all worked well together, but it’s difficult sometimes to start that process. You look at assistants and head coaches down the road, and they always worked together. They have an understanding. It was a learning experience in that way, too, to see how to deal with things. I look back, and I learned a lot. There are things I would definitely do differently, as an assistant coach. But, again, I loved my time in Toronto. I really did. And I was sad the day when I had to leave – obviously it came to a point where I had to leave – but I enjoyed my time thoroughly there. I learned a lot in Toronto. They were very good to me – the organization and Maple Leaf Sports – very good. I couldn’t say one bad little thing about the club.

    CSN: A year ago, you were the interim coach of TFC, and you were there on the sidelines making all the decisions, all the calls, all the lineups. This was your first time in charge of a top-flight club. How was that experience?

    ND: Again, it was a good experience. It came out of nowhere. I wasn’t expecting it. I was actually back in Vancouver when it all kind of went down. I flew back into Toronto, summoned by the club, and was basically having breakfast at home in Vancouver on a Monday, and Tuesday I was flying to Salt Lake ion a charter flight with the team as a head coach! That first road trip was quite successful. We got beat badly by Real 4-1 in the first game, but we beat Houston and then tied Cruz Azul in Mexico. It was a nice little start to the process. It went relatively well, speaking of how much time we had – myself and Danny Dichio, who was the assistant at the time – to turn things around, per se. We thought that in the ten games we had, we got the boys turned around and playing some decent football. But once they called in Jurgen Klinsmann, we knew that the writing was on the wall.

    CSN: Ray Clark had some strong words about that. He felt that Canadian teams should be hiring Canadian coaches, or at least giving them a chance somewhere on the staff. Did you hear from the Montreal Impact at all?

    ND: I was never, ever contacted by them, which is the disappointing part. I had a history there. We won the first-ever A-League championship there, and I was part of that team. I’ve got strong ties to the whole Impact organization. I thought at least a phone call would be kind of interesting, but nothing ever came of it. That’s just the way it goes.

    CSN: Did you pursue them at all?

    ND: I’ve obviously got an agent that works for me, and I think maybe there were a few phone calls made, but there’s no communication from the club, and I’m not the kind of person who knocks on guys’ doors. But at the end of the day, there’s only a certain amount of coaches in Canada that have coached at a higher level. They know who they are. If they want them, they know how to get a hold of them. But that’s just the way it goes. I had a great time there, and I wish them the best. I hope they do really well in MLS.

    CSN: This whole gig sounds pretty frustrating.

    ND: Everybody keeps asking me what can we do? What about Canadian coaches? I think the bottom line is: the people you have to ask are the people who make the decisions. The people who run Toronto FC, Montreal, Vancouver and Edmonton. I grew up in this country. It’s funny because I was born here, and my parents came from Croatia. When I grew up, I wasn’t a “Canadian.” I was a Croatian-Canadian, because that’s the way it was where I grew up in East Vancouver. I had to become “Canadian” by actually leaving the country and going to play soccer in Croatia, and become a “Canadian” out there. It’s kind of a backward system. I think, in Canada, Canadians aren’t respected amongst their own people. That’s just the bottom line. I played in Canada. I got cut by two teams when the CSL started. I couldn’t make it. But I went to Croatia and ended up signing for Dinamo Zagreb, one of the most storied clubs in Croatia. Then I get called into the Canada team. I didn’t get respect until I went away. And I think – unfortunately for me – my life is going full-circle where it looks like, to get a coaching job, I’ll have to leave the country again.

    CSN: Coaching jobs around the world tend to be revolving doors to some extent. What are your plans? Where do you want to take all this passion you have, all these qualifications you have, and try to really make a name for yourself in the world of soccer as a coach?

    ND: To be honest, right now, I don’t know. Again, if you’re a hockey coach in Canada, in the NHL, you’ve got some past experience and then you go make a few phone calls to Europe, I think you could pretty much get out to Germany or Switzerland pretty easily, I’m imagining. I don’t know, because I’m not sure how that thing goes. Unfortunately, as a Canadian soccer coach, it’s going to be tougher. It’s tough to be a Canadian player and go to Europe, let alone being a coach. There’s possibilities, and you’ve got to be realistic about your starting point being somewhere lower, which means can you sacrifice the family again, can you sacrifice financially to do it? I know a lot of individuals that are like me, but when you have an idea and a dream and a vision, you want to carry it right through to the end, no matter who says you’re not going to do it. Whether it’s you want to prove somebody wrong, or whether it’s you want to live your dream, I don’t think I’m ready to listen to people here who say there’s no chance for Canadian coaches. I want to make it right for myself, and hopefully get out of here.

    Also in this series:

    - Ray Clark interview

    - Alex Chiet interview

    - Charlie Cuzzetto interview

    - Frank Yallop interview

    - Ron Davidson interview

    - Rafael Carbajal's vision

    - Some preliminaries

    - Canadian coaching: a new CSN investigation

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