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Toronto Star: Waiters Still Serves Soccer


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Waiters still serves soccer

Former coach holds unique distinction of leading Canada to its only World Cup appearance

NECO COCKBURN

SPORTS REPORTER

Tony Waiters has accomplished a lot for someone who says he's never worked at a "real job" in his life. Coaching the Canadian men's soccer team to its only World Cup appearance isn't too shabby, for a start.

He played professionally and then got into coaching and managing in England before moving to Canada in 1977. He came here on a three-month contract to head the North American Soccer League's Vancouver Whitecaps. And he hasn't left.

The former England goalkeeper became the president and general manager of the Whitecaps and later coached Canada's World Cup and Olympic teams. After a quarter-final finish in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the national team qualified for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico for the first — and only — time in its history.

The father of a grown-up son and daughter, Waiters now lives with his wife Anne in Vancouver. He runs World of Soccer, a company that promotes the teaching and coaching of soccer through books, manuals, videos and other aids.

Unplugged ran into Waiters in Oakville where he was demonstrating an Internet-based teaching tool that he has developed.

Q What was it like to go to the World Cup?

A It was incredible, because I'd been part of the England team way back in the '60s when they went to the World Cup final. I was cut just before the final squad was put together. To go with Canada was, for all of the players at that time and myself, the fulfillment of a lifetime's ambition. We played in St. John's, Nfld., in the final qualifying game, which is a day that no one that is part of the Canadian soccer scene will ever forget.

Mexico was a great experience, but we were up against the big boys then. Our first game was against European champion France, who then had some world-class players like Michel Platini, (Jean) Tigana, (Luis) Fernandez.

We didn't win any games in Mexico but we competed okay. The only regret I have is that we haven't built on that since '86. The women's game has done very well, but not the men's game.

Q How do you think the Canadian men will do in the next World Cup?

A I think they've got the best coach they could get. I think (coach) Frank Yallop did an excellent job in the MLS with San Jose. He's paid his dues, he went to England and played there very successfully for many years. He was a journeyman player — had to learn his trade, because he wasn't a naturally gifted player. So he understands himself, he understands team chemistry. I think he'll do well, but it's still going to be extremely difficult.

Three teams qualify. You've got Mexico and the United States. It's almost a given that they will get there. Then Canada's fighting for third place with Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador. It's going to be difficult, but not impossible.

Q How does the current Canadian talent compare to what you were working with?

A I think the talent is better. What you need is an infrastructure, like they have in hockey, where a kid goes in and goes up a notch. If they're good, they'll go up another notch, and they just keep on going — the whole structure is there, like a pyramid of development and opportunity.

We haven't got that here ... It's beginning to happen, but it's not there yet. Without that, all the players are lost. The good players at 14 or 15, maybe they don't make the provincial team, they get cut and can easily be lost to the game.

If you're in Europe and you get cut from one team, there's another chance with another team and another team. There's a lot of evidence of players who've not made it at a certain age but have come on as late developers. The system tends to work against that here because if you're not recognized at a certain time and put into the system, you're outside the system and pretty well lost.

Q Who do you think is the best goalkeeper in the world today?

A I'm not quite sure I can answer that because I thought (Danish goalkeeper Peter) Schmeichel was five years ago. I've had a keen eye on the American goalkeepers because I have a vested interest — I do some work with the United States Soccer Association. I thought (Brad) Friedel was going that way, but he's not there yet. I was very impressed with the Turkish goalkeeper (Rustu Recber) at the last World Cup. So there are some good ones around.

Q Do you regret that you missed the era of super salaries?

A No ... I felt fortunate to be in the game. I was a late developer; I didn't get into professional soccer until I was 22. I went through college, which was good, as it happened.

I was in an era where there was a ceiling on salaries, but just at that time they removed it. What happened then is that the big clubs became bigger — the Manchester Uniteds and the Arsenals could attract the best players. Whereas before that even the small clubs could afford to pay the best players. But from a personal point of view, no regrets.

Q Who do you think will win Euro 2004?

A (Laughs) England, of course. Difficult to say. You know the Germans are always going to be competitive, but there's a whole host of teams in there. I wouldn't want to put money on any one team. But if I had put to money on it, I think I would put it on the German team. With a little side bet on England as well.

Q Why have you stayed in Canada?

A When I came here, I was very excited. It was a challenge — an incredible challenge. Back in Britain, the infrastructure is there, the opportunities are there, but here I find it very exciting the way the game is going and being a part of that.

Q How would your play now compare to during your time?

A I'd have to adjust. It's a different game. Players are quicker, fitter, they do things faster — there's a lot of one-touch play. I think the good players of yesteryear would adjust. They'd have to adjust. They couldn't play like they used to play, because the game's moved on. I don't think there would be a problem — talent is talent. But players are fitter, faster, quicker, bigger. Take goalkeepers, for instance. In my day, I was known as a very big goalkeeper. Now, you look around and there are players who are 6-foot-5, 6-foot-7. They were seen as freaks in those days. But because people these days are bigger and they also are more agile and flexible, the game has changed.

Q What's your favourite sport besides soccer?

A I used to enjoy tennis, but my shoulder has packed in. I used to work on throwing the ball a lot and I did 200 throws a day, so it's become arthritic. I can't do the serves any more. I like golf. It's a great game. I like all sports. If I had grown up here I would have played hockey. I certainly enjoy watching hockey, because I see a lot of similarities between hockey and soccer.

Q How do you stay in shape?

A I jog three, four times a week. I find that's the most convenient way of keeping fit, because if you're moving around as I do, you don't need any fancy equipment or anything like that. I do a bit of swimming, but mainly jogging.

Q Do you have a favourite thing to do away from soccer?

A Not really. I do a lot of walking, which is part of fitness. One of the things that I've found fascinating about this country is the bird life and nature — you see things here that you never see back in Britain.

Q What's your favourite personal possession?

A I have a photograph from Pele, personalized. I got to know him, played against him ... occasionally did promotions with him. It came from nowhere, just wishing me good luck. That sits in my office.

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