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  • Friday Q & A with Yuri Studin


    I had the opportunity to chat recently with Yuri Studin, president of the Spartacus Soccer Club in Toronto. This is the club from which newcomer to the Canada senior mens' squad and Russian Premier League midfielder Joseph Di Chiara emerged.

    Yuri arrived in Canada from Russia in 1976, and has been involved in youth soccer here for a large chunk of the time since. This interview was originally conducted as part of research on an article about Di Chiara, but things freewheeled quickly and I decided to simply turn it into a somewhat raw question and answer piece.

    Studin touches on a range of subjects that his 30+ years involvement in youth soccer qualify him to touch on, including the "hockeyanizing" of youth soccer development in this country and how qualifying for the mens' World Cup should not be the CSA's top priority.

    The interview was edited (severely) for length.


    I'm curious how you felt when you learned Joseph had been called up to the Canada team?

    I wasn't surprised that he was called to the Canada team because as soon as word hit the market about his employment [in Europe] it was obvious that it would eventually come to the knowledge of the national team coach. I was surprised actually when he succeeded in Europe. Once you're there, you become on the list of the players that play abroad, which is always the narrow market that [the national team coaches] are looking at.

    Why do you think Joseph was never involved with a provincial youth team in Ontario or one of the national youth teams?

    Ok, I'll explain that. He was involved in the earlier stages. He was involved. The problem is a systemic problem. It's nothing to do with anyone personally, no one is responsible for this. His father at some point in time made the decision not to continue, that's my opinion. There was some disagreement. There was some understanding that, you know, when you participate in a provincial program you've been selected to represent your province or sometimes your country and you still have to pay money to do that. And it turns many people off. Sometimes for the direct financial reasons and sometimes on the principle. Canada is one of the richest country in the world, these young men contribute maybe 10 years of their lives to develop their skills in a certain sport and they still have to pay [to play]. This is what normally, how would you say, compromises the credibility of the provincial program.

    Soccer is the sport that was always a retreat for poor folks. And 90% of the world selects players from third world countries and suddenly you have here... I would call it 'hockeyanizing' of soccer. Interesting aspect right? That word came to me two minutes ago [laughter]. But we have enough talent in hockey to get good players no matter what. Pay or no pay. But in soccer we are poor in talent, so instead of scraping at the bottom of the barrel* to find someone we put up this obstacle.

    Did the CSA approach your club after what Joseph was doing in Russia became news back in Canada?

    Definitely. I heard from a few people. Not from the CSA first, but from the OSA. And also the media became interested immediately. Media is usually ahead of functionaries.

    I was interviewed on a couple of occasions.... Always this question came up: 'How did he fall through the cracks?' But I don't think there is such a meaning of "cracks." I don't think they are so efficient in selection anyway. There is no one to blame, it's what we have here going on. It's a systemic problem. It's not just an OSA or CSA problem. The system needs to be changed from the top down, but they just work within the capacity they have.

    But we now have three MLS clubs here in Canada. Are the academies associated with those clubs becoming an avenue for players to develop in Canada?

    I think the system they are establishing is correct. Because if they are pro clubs and they have an academy within the club you don't pay there. As far as I know at TFC you don't pay. They call you in and say: 'You don't have to pay, but you have to follow our instructions, lifestyle, etc. Will you subscribe to it?' We have another gentleman who played with us until 12. His name is Matthew Stinson. He plays for TFC now, graduated from the academy. I can't take credit for that but he was with us early. It shows you if you pick the right people and groom then you can do a good job.

    But think of the potential employment? That's still just three teams spread through a huge country. If you take British soccer, you're talking myriads of clubs and all of them have an academy. That's thousands of players employed... eventually it's like hockey here, the cream rises to the top. If you have talent you succeed. Here, where are you gonna look? Where is the field for selection? The absolute problem is [a lack of] a national league. That would employ players. Why don't we have our Canadian MLS?

    Do you see things moving in a better direction?

    Yes, they are. No question. At the time I got involved it was so naive it was unbelievable. Competitive soccer was on the level of [some kind of] house league. The coaches were just willing parents for many years. And then what we did, [us] and a few other clubs, we started to employ coaches, tried to make a little difference. And I don't know where it started. I don't even want to take credit, who cares who does it. The main thing that started changing was the approach. Suddenly everybody's ambitious, even though there was still huge confusion and ignorance taking place, suddenly there were artificial turf and leagues popping up all over the country.. and the OSA also started talking a bit differently in terms of how they look at things. There is a difference but to manifest into real professional soccer to see the real guys play good games... look at our national team, it still [suffers] from a severe lack of talent.

    On that note, what does Joseph Di Chiara bring to the Canadian national team?

    When he visited Toronto [recently], he said: 'I'm playing a position which is usually the domain of the most experienced players. I'm at 19 playing this position which gives me tremendous [unclear].' It is a position that he has always been playing. I think he could make a difference, but it's a question of whether there is another experienced player in that position playing. Joseph has to look for a break. God forbid someone gets injured, but that's how athletes get breaks... it's a reality of this gladiator work.

    He's full of energy and enthusiasm. By succeeding in Europe it's going to give him more confidence... He also became a beast. I was shocked when he came here on his short visit and I said 'Hello Jospeh' and I was looking [level to] his belly-button. The guy is huge but at the same time agile and physically developed.

    We're all going to watch the Puerto Rico game (Canada plays Puerto Rico in World Cup qualifying at BMO Field on October 11). We're hoping because Puerto Rico is not such a big soccer nation, who knows, if the game is going well [stephen] Hart will have a heart just to push him in [laughter]. There's no rush but the fact that he was called was already a big thrill, we're living in a dream world that it happened to our little organization and we're very proud.

    How do you rate Canada's chances in this World Cup qualifying cycle?

    If you look at history, we had good times playing El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, even Mexico we challenged. Right? Now we're in a pool of teams to have to qualify to play at that level. If we cannot qualify from amongst these little countries there is nothing to talk about. But once we get to these teams that we talked about, they went a long way in progress. They became really strong, Costa Rica, Honduras, nobody takes them lightly anymore. And the U.s. obviously went ahead of us. We used to be at par with them.

    But I want to tell you one thing. We always talk in terms of making it to the World Cup, right? But if you go to Europe or South America, the outstanding teams like Chile or Peru may not even go to the World Cup, but they have soccer in their countries.** It's not an issue. For us, let's say by sheer luck we sneak in. But how does it affect us? We've already been there once. At that time it seemed like a fluke and it turned out to be. It didn't make any difference. It's not the World Cup we have to think about, it's nice to make it of course, but it's good to have something here that works well and then think about the World Cup. Don't you think the priority should be [what's happening] here?

    I could talk for hours about this but... a lot of people who maybe aren't traditional soccer fans always ask me 'Why aren't [Canada] in the World Cup?' and it seems people are focused on saying that if we make the World Cup everyone will become interested.

    From a marketing point of view, it's not so great for the World Cup to have a country like Canada there. It's not so exciting. I mean, who dreams about us? But in the future, I mean Americans are already respected, they are considered a serious team. First, let's become a serious team and then worry about the World Cup.

    *It was clear Yuri did not mean "scraping the bottom of the barrel" in a negative way, but simply to illustrate how the development system needs to be casting a net beyond those who can afford to participate.

    **For clarity's sake, I'll mention that Yuri is speaking generally about having a developed soccer culture, with many pro clubs and a broad-based youth development system.

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