When the Canadian Soccer Association posted an online job listing for a new technical director last week it attracted titters from the usual peanut gallery. "Oh ho ho ho! Look at the CSA, they're having to hit Monster.com for their most important technical position! Doo hoo hoo hoo!" And we all laughed merrily and clinked our glasses. "Can you imagine the English Football Association trolling for resumés? What a silly thought. Same old amateurish Canadian Soccer Association."
Actually, in the most important respect the CSA has it right and we wags had it wrong.
What the CSA is doing, so important and so critical that it should have been branded on the eyeballs of every soccer observer in this country, is looking outside the organization. Their greatest failing running the men's program is that they have leaned too heavily on the same old boys; long-time staff coaches, former international players, and so on. Say what you will about the women's program but, by bringing in Carolina Morace and John Herdman, the CSA at least looked for new ideas and got improvements out of that. The men's team mostly hasn't enjoyed the same luxury: the 2005 appointment of Englishman Richard Bate as technical director lasted less than a year before he fled to the safety of the British Isles.
So, rather than take the same easy way and appoint whichever old CSA toady you like to the position of technical director, the Canadian Soccer Association is looking for new blood to revive the men's program. That is hugely commendable. Let's hope their dedication to novelty doesn't stop there.
In an article for CBC.ca, Ben Rycroft suggested two names: Tony Fonseca and Jason de Vos. De Vos is a legendary Canadian international and well-respected media commentator who was for a short time technical director of Canada's largest soccer club (and who wrote an illuminating article of his own about the technical director job), and Fonseca is a long-time CSA coach, former boss of the Vancouver Whitecaps and currently first assistant of the senior men's team and head coach of the U-23s who failed to qualify for the Olympics. Though not in Rycroft's article, former Canadian and Vancouver Whitecaps assistant coach Colin Miller has also been frequently mentioned.
The trouble is that these men are products of the system which has failed to get the national team into the last round of World Cup qualifying since 1997. And, without diminishing their ability, none of them have the experience to be technical director of a serious professional club. The only reason they are contenders in Canada is because they are Canadian (or near enough in Fonseca's case) and that's the best we can rustle up.
You see where I'm going: Canada needs foreign talent. Yes, a foreign technical director would cost money and come with risks: will he just flee back home, job undone? But ambition isn't cheap and it isn't risk-free, and "technical director" is an efficient area to spend money. If you have somebody at the top who can provide expert guidance and training for the most important members of your technical program, that can be far more helpful than any national team head coach or other more public but more expensive hirings.
It's a delusion to think Canada's men's national team can pull itself up by its own bootstraps. The trouble is that there simply isn't the expertise in this country to develop the team we need to qualify for World Cups. There isn't an active Canadian who can say he's been a steady winner at the professional level, or who can boast of a record developing players or staff. Our professional clubs are making great progress training young talent but even they found it necessary to bring in foreign heads for their academies. The Canadian Soccer Association, with such a vast responsibility and so much more work to do, is certainly no exception.
European coaches of intelligence and ambition have been willing to come to Canada and work with the Whitecaps and Toronto FC for years. (FC Edmonton and Montreal's academies are too young to draw conclusions, but certainly Edmonton's Dutch coaching staff has been a constant throughout their short history). If the CSA is willing to take the time, write the cheques, and give the technical director both the rights and the responsibilities he needs, they could do the same. Time is not of the essence, after all; it is better to take an extra six months finding just the right candidate than hiring in a panic. It's far too late for a technical director to influence this World Cup cycle anyway, and the fruits of his labours may only be apparent come 2018.
Just looking outside the bounds of Metcalfe Street is promising for an organization that is sometimes too insular. Bravo, CSA. Now, close your eyes, get out the chequebook, and take the next step.