Jump to content

Brunt: Gold Standard Hard To Meet


Recommended Posts


From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Though five years might seem plenty long enough to assess failure or success, the fact is that, to some extent, the jury was still out on Holger Osieck.

He resigned yesterday as the coach of the Canadian men's national soccer team, a decision that apparently was also in accordance with the wishes of the Canadian Soccer Association. The parting of the ways comes on the heels of one of the worst moments of Osieck's tenure, the team's embarrassing first-round exit from this year's Gold Cup tournament.

Couple that with Canada's lack of progress toward World Cup qualification (a feat achieved only once, in 1986, and now apparently less likely than ever) with a middling record in international competition, and it would be easy enough to label Osieck an out-and-out flop.

Osieck also enjoyed an uneasy relationship with some of his players, including the country's one bona fide star, Everton striker Tomas Radzinski. Though he wasn't the one who cut Owen Hargreaves from a national junior team, it was during Osieck's reign that Hargreaves, the Calgary-born Bayern Munich midfielder, opted to play internationally for England instead of Canada — a huge setback for the national program.

There was one great success during Osieck's tenure: Canada's entirely unexpected victory in the 2000 Gold Cup, a result that was in part the product of some extreme good fortune. Still, that team, certainly not the most talented in the tournament, pulled together and overachieved, which, by extension, means credit is due to the coach.

As it turned out, though, the win wasn't the beginning of bigger and better things. Instead, while the United States, once less than our soccer equal, rose to become competitive with anyone in the world, Canada mostly spun its wheels.

But consider for a moment the monumental challenge Osieck faced when he took the job. This is a country with massive, recreational participation in soccer, but that can't sustain a national professional league where players could be developed at home. Instead, our best head overseas, from where it's always difficult to reclaim them for international play. Team continuity is nearly impossible to establish from one match to another.

Our rugby sides have managed to do that at the elite level in similar circumstances and so has our rising women's soccer team (though those players are mostly developed in the U.S. college system, are North American-based and are competing in a much shallower pool). In men's soccer, Canada's breakthrough is nowhere in sight.

Osieck may not have been the best coach in the world or carried the biggest reputation, but he was what Canada could attract — and what the Canadian Soccer Association could afford — at the time. The idea was that he would bring with him some of the intelligence, organization and professionalism of the German system in which he'd played and coached and create a development program that would allow the country's talent to progress smoothly to the highest level.

Obviously, there was going to be a culture clash. Osieck's values were formed in a real soccer country, one with a long, rich tradition, where the goals were obvious and the expectations high. He is no diplomat or salesman, and he wasn't ever going to be the public face of the game in Canada, but the hope was that he could make the necessary changes without overly alienating those who had long fostered the sport in this country.

He made some progress in that direction, though apparently not enough. And in the spotlight, in the part of his job the public noticed, he couldn't make the national team any better. Osieck's growing frustration in the role was obvious, and with a change at the top of the CSA, his departure comes as no real surprise.

The question is, though, whether anyone else could have done any better, and whether Osieck's replacement will now. The football world is moving on, new countries are emerging to challenge the sport's long established hierarchy, while Canada, even with all of those kids playing, doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

Bob Lenarduzzi couldn't change that and was criticized because he was a Canadian, because he wasn't steeped in foreign soccer culture and because he couldn't possibly understand what it would take to become more like the serious football regions of the planet. Osieck couldn't change that, despite his European heritage, because what he knew and what he understood didn't translate the way the game works here.

Best of luck to the next guy, be he English, or Brazilian or one of us. He'll need it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...