Free kick Posted July 20, 2007 Share Posted July 20, 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup shows problems facing Canada as soccer nation http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Soccer/2007/07/20/4355185-cp.html By PAUL JAMES (CP) - Some years back, the vagabond yet extremely successful Bora Milutinovic was asked whether he would be interested in coaching Canada. When he answered an emphatic no, he was asked why. His simple answer was Canada is "a mission impossible." While I fundamentally disagree with his assertion, at the same time I understand his perspective. A minuscule professional soccer system, very limited funds, very limited coaching development, a politically fragmented landscape, few high-level coaching opportunities and no clear direction as to where you are going as a soccer nation. Yet if you are a national team coach for Canada, you are expected by all and sundry to qualify for world championships, win at world championships, produce world-class players, play a modern attractive style of play, cater to players' wishes just in case they disagree with the approach and all this, for meagre compensation. Hmmm, on second thought, maybe I should agree with Milutinovic's claim. Watching the recent performances of our team at the FIFA U-20 World Cup (exiting the tournament after three straight losses and without a goal to its credit) and then reading the various critiques and interpretations of why we were so poor and how good we should be, it in many ways highlights how really immature and naive our soccer industry is in Canada. Unrealistic expectations, a misunderstanding of the level of play, and an ignorance of the true purpose of national youth teams has unfortunately blinded people of the true realities. As much as we get excited about our participation rates, our women's program, our ability to host tournaments and even the invention of Toronto FC, it is clear when compared to our competitors on the world stage that we are still far behind - we simply do not have the soccer culture or system capable of regularly producing internationally competitive players. The conclusion we should take from this particular under-20 group is straightforward and uncomplicated. The majority of players were not good enough to effectively compete on the world stage beyond what they displayed. Relative to the competition, our passing and first touch was collectively poor; the tactical behaviour of players was naive (goals conceded against Congo are perfect examples); physically some players have unrealistic fitness standards and psychologically, as a team, they could not handle the pressure - a result of a lack of experience and confidence. It appears everyone is looking for answers, along the way blaming the coach, the players, and the Canadian Soccer Association. Yet the reality again is quite simple. Early exposure to the day-to-day demands of training and competing in a legitimate professional soccer environment have been missing from the majority of our current players. In other parts of the world - and for a few Canadian players - this kind of environment prepares them over a 10-year period. It fuels the motivation to train properly, it corrects technical/tactical deficiencies, sets realistic physical standards and, through tough competition, psychologically prepares players for the rigours of professional and international competition. While it is too early to be retrospective with this particular group of players, five years on it is certainly possible with the 2001 Canadian squad that competed in Argentina. Just compare the Brazilian and Canadian teams who met in a first-round game, with Brazil winning 2-0. While all the Brazilian players were stationed at significant professional levels prior to the tournament, our own squad included a few minor-level university players, some unattached players (without clubs) playing nowhere (including a very young Atiba Hutchinson) and a spattering of players training at varying professional levels. Meanwhile the Brazilian squad included, to name a few, Edu, Eduardo, Julio Baptiste, Maicon, Adriano, and Kaka - today all footballing stars of Europe. Keeping in mind this Brazilian team were knocked out at the quarter-final stage clearly gives perspective as to the true standard of play at the tournament. From the 2001 Canadian squad, most players are not playing the game at any significant level today and in some instances not playing the game at all. Before the tournament itself, some people suggested we should be winning our group. In hindsight, clearly a delusional assessment. Let's review our history of this tournament with some sobering statistics: our under-20 teams have competed in seven of the 16 tournaments. In 27 games played, the teams have won four, tied five and lost 18. Remarkably at the under-17 level, it is even more revealing. Having only qualified for four world tournaments out of a possible 11, Canada has never earned a single point. No wins, no ties. Three goals have been scored, 42 conceded. In 1993, a Canadian team that included Paul Stalteri, Jim Brennan, Jeff Clarke and Jason Bent lost all three games, scored no goals and conceded 18. We really need no more evidence to suggest that the level of play at this stage is beyond us. Until we accept this fact and face the reality that without improving our professional and collegiate soccer systems here in Canada, we will be limited in our progress. While the addition of TFC is a move in the right direction, it is not enough without expansion into Vancouver and Montreal and a willingness by the clubs to be a part of the Canadian development process. In the meantime, we should view qualifying for world youth soccer championships as significant successes, and then appearances at these events as opportunities to expose our players to the realities of international soccer, knowing that a few will one day have the opportunity to play at the senior World Cup level. And in regards to coach Dale Mitchell, one should keep in mind that he was at the helm for two of the four wins we have attained at this level. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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