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Canada might have been eliminated at the first hurdle of the Qatar World Cup losing all three games but it’s still been a historical tournament for them. The Maple Leafs’ fans have seen their team score a first goal, they’ve seen their side put in dominating – if not ultimately winning displays – and they’ll leave Qatar with their heads held high. There is, however, one major question mark that looms over their future – and that is the future of their coach, John Herdman.
Who is John Herdman?
Herdman was born and raised in England – specifically County Durham but despite having just coached at the World Cup, he has never actually played the game professionally at any level. Instead, his only experience of the game in his homeland came from playing at an amateur level and coaching at a community come youth level for Sunderland.
In 2001 though, Herdman uprooted his life and opted to move to New Zealand. He signed on to a coaching education programme there becoming the Education Manager and then Director of Development. Fast forward to 2006 and Herdman landed his first notable gig – in charge of the All White’s women’s team. This role saw Herdman take control of both the senior and youth sides; New Zealand performed well on all fronts under his guidance including making appearances at back to back World Cups in 2007 and 2011 with an Olympic Games appearance sandwiched between the two.
In 2011, Herdman swapped New Zealand for Canada where he took on a the Head Coach role of their women’s team. Again, success followed. Early in his reign Canada won Gold at the XVI Pan American Games seeing off the likes of Brazil and Mexico. Then came the 2012 Olympics; Herdman helped his side to a Bronze medal with that also being delivered again four years later. A World Cup quarter-final appearance occurred in between those two Olympic Games too.
It was that consistent delivery of progression and results that earned Herdman the crack at the men’s job.
How has Herdman performed for Canada?
Where the men’s team is concerned, Herdman’s big achievement has obviously been guiding the side to Qatar. In Qatar, they’ve impressed – and without one of their key players. It would be easy to look at their results and say “played three, lost three” but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Performance wise, Canada have caught the eye somewhat.
Their style of play has been one built on an aggressive press and slick and direct passing football with Alphonso Davies the stellar name providing touches of genuine class throughout the campaign. Unfortunately, this tournament will go down as a “so close but yet so far” story. Had Davies converted from the penalty spot in their opening game or had they showed more composure in the final third then arguably they’d be heading into the knockout stages here.
That said, for balance, it’s important to note their last game of the tournament. They were outplayed by Croatia with their opponents directly citing Herdman’s pre-match comments as an inspiration for their win.
After losing to Belgium, Canada coach John Herdman told his players that 'they belong here, and we're gonna go and 'F' Croatia, it's as simple as it gets'.
Andrej Kramarić after Croatia's 4-1 win eliminated Canada: pic.twitter.com/aIXRZDMlv4
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 27, 2022
Why is there talk of Herdman’s future?
At the moment, there are no concrete reports of Herdman leaving the Canada set up, which has been the case for some managers who have crashed out at the group stage. That said, Herdman himself hasn’t exactly moved heaven and earth to reassure the fans of his long term loyalty. During a recent press conference Herdman was asked about his commitment to the 2026 World Cup, where Canada are hosts. His response was sharp and, in truth, pretty weak – “I will be tomorrow”. That isn’t the line Canadian fans wanted to hear when their boss was asked if he’d be leading the nation into that next tournament.
Where could Herdman go next?
The most widely discussed route for Herdman has been a move to another international team. Despite Canada progressing nicely under his stewardship, there will be a big ceiling on what he can deliver there. Can Canada win a World Cup? In all likelihood, no. Can they go deep at a major tournament? Probably not. So how does Herdman, who is just 37-years-old, further his career? A move to a more competitive nation is one avenue that might interest him.
The other possibility is a move into club management. Herdman will want to go into a club at a reasonably decent level though. Would a club in Europe’s big five take a gamble on him? No; that’s very unlikely. What about the next level down? It’s possible but far from nailed on. Nobody doubts Herdman has done a good job but he’s never played professionally and, more to the point, he’s never managed a club either. The transition from international management to club management is huge.
That being said, there has been a real move from the so-called merry go round of proven managers in recent times with many clubs preferring the up and coming type. Herdman fits that bill and, should a decent offer come along, he’ll be hard pressed to turn it away.