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In Focus: The Englishman in charge of Canada's footballing renaissance
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Matthew Storey
LiveScore
John Herdman has guided Canada to their first World Cup since 1986
John Herdman has guided Canada to their first World Cup since 1986

Unbeknown to many football fans, there are actually two English managers at the World Cup in Qatar.

Gareth Southgate is in charge of England and 47-year-old John Herdman has guided Canada to their first appearance at the global showpiece since 1986.

Ahead of Les Rouges' opening fixture against Belgium this evening, we put their County Durham-born boss under the spotlight.

Unusual route

The reason many have never heard of Herdman is because he has taken an incredibly unusual route to his current role.

After a stint in Sunderland’s academy, he moved to New Zealand in 2001 and eventually worked his way up from a development role to boss of the women’s side.

He was in charge of the Football Ferns between 2006 and 2011 and his efforts there caught the attention of Canada, who named him their women’s coach.

Herdman’s success saw the Canadian FA take the bold move to appoint him as the men’s manager in January 2018.

Breaking down barriers

John Herdman was ecstatic after Canada booked their spot in the World Cup
John Herdman was ecstatic after Canada booked their spot in the World Cup

A manager moving straight from the women’s game to a similar-sized role in men’s football is virtually unheard of — and he is the only boss to have led a women's and men's team from the same country to World Cup qualification.

But Herdman took charge of a Canadian side who had not even made it to the last stage of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 edition.

He boldly said they would qualify for 2022 and has used his appointment in his motivational speeches to players ever since.

He said: "There had been a lot of men moving into the women’s game but I think I was the first to move in the opposite direction.

"This is part of what we’re trying to say to our players — to be first, to be pioneering, find that unbroken ground. It’s cool to know you were first at something."

Popular man

Canada’s star players are Bayern Munich winger Alphonso Davies and Lille striker Jonathan David.

The latter has made no secret of his admiration for Herdman and the job he has done.

David said: "I think the biggest secret to our team is our coach. He brought in a brotherhood, with everyone working for each other and working hard.

"From what I heard from the older players who who were on the national team before me, before John came, the group wasn’t united. 

"He brought everybody together. And tactically he’s very detailed in what he wants and how he wants to achieve it."

On top of that, Herdman uses every advantage he can to get results. He made sure last November's qualifier against Mexico was played in Edmonton, where it was -13C during the game and on an artificial surface.

A 2-1 win was their first qualification victory over Mexico since 1976, and it moved them to the top of the group, a position they never relinquished.

No expectations

John Herdman has fostered a sense of togetherness in Canada's side
John Herdman has fostered a sense of togetherness in Canada's side

Despite their qualifying success and the fact they will host the 2026 edition alongside USA and Mexico, there are no expectations on Canada.

They have been placed into a difficult group alongside first opponents Belgium, 2018 runners-up Croatia and Morocco.

But Herdman knows that even an unlikely last-16 spot would be massive for a country more used to falling in love with their ice hockey players.

He said: "If you progress this team, to a certain stage, the whole country will stop. That’s a big part of what we know the legacy can be.

"That’s the opportunity — when I say we’re going into this with genuine opportunity, the country hasn’t had that feeling for some 36 years."

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