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John Herdman: Canada’s boss who makes dreams come true as he travels with Consett to the World Cup in Qatar

England’s hopes for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar are not confined to the Three Lions alone, with John Herdman making dreams come true with Canada’s exciting side.

Herdman’s journey was unorthodox compared to Gareth Southgate, and the Maple Leafs boss continues to prove people wrong after leading Canada to its first Finals since 1986.

In first place is Belgium, perhaps a waning force but with some of the best players in the world including Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne.

The challenge for Canada is very real now, but Herdman deserved to be at this stage.

The son of Consett, from County Durham, the 47-year-old caught the coaching bug working with the local under-11 team on a Duke of Edinburgh award before joining the Sunderland academy.

But Herdman’s progress was hampered by what he saw as the “old boys club” in English football, so in 2001 he moved to New Zealand for a life-changing experience – a leap of faith that was rewarded in spades.

He eventually became head coach of the women’s national team before assuming the same position in Canada, where he became manager of the men’s team in 2018 and led them to their second ever World Cup.

“From a career perspective, it was definitely a challenge when you weren’t playing at the highest level,” Herdman told the PA news agency.

“I had experience working in academies in England and you just felt there was a culture of almost protecting players who gave their lives to the game and really pushing out anyone who wasn’t really a part of this club. That’s what I sensed.

“I felt like it was an old-boys game in the ’90s, when it felt like if you didn’t play the game you weren’t going to get a job at a higher level.

“There is a desire to prove people wrong. There’s no doubt about it and over time you’ve had to let it go because it’s a pretty toxic motivation.

“Now he is entering the World Cup simply with the freedom to really enjoy the experience with these players. There is nothing but an opportunity for Canada in this World Cup and that’s why we have to take it so casually.

“Wanting to prove people wrong, I think it’s already been done – you know, by doing what we’ve achieved as a staff, as a coach, as a group of players.

“Now it’s time to enjoy it, go and experience all the hard work you’ve put in and embrace it with an open mind and enjoy whatever the World Cup throws at us.”

Belgium, Croatia and Morocco are Canada’s group opponents, while Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich and Lille striker Jonathan David are the star players in a team that has benefited from Major League Soccer’s rise.

Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich is a key player for Canada (Adam Davy/PA)

(PA Archive)

Herdman deliberately shaped the group’s mindset in preparation for their tough-looking group, and believes his Consett upbringing has helped his managerial abilities.

Moreover, coaching helped him through a difficult period after moving to a council house at the age of 16 when his father had mental health problems.

“It really laid the groundwork for what my future will be – that you’re relying on yourself here,” Herdman said in a northeasterly accent still intact.

“Your parents are no longer with you. To some extent, you’ll pretty much look after your parents, and here you’re on your own. “That’s it, you’re on your own, son.”

“Demand nothing from anyone, take nothing from anyone, and keep doing it. Just keep going and that’s it. Anyone who knows me will know that you won’t find me in anyone’s pocket.

“I have a very strong will, if that’s the direction we’re going, I’ll give my life to it and we usually end up where we intended, or very close.

“It came from that moment. I think at 16, 17 I probably had two really hard years – was it beating an inch of my life and then family break up then recognition, yes my father will probably never be the same again.

“It was a difficult period. I could easily have gone the wrong way.

“I think with coaching that’s what saved me and my passion from following this path to teaching and eventually to professional coaching.”

This commitment provided the platform for Herdman’s remarkable journey to Qatar, where he became the first manager to lead the men’s and women’s national teams to World Cup qualifiers.

“With this team, we have nothing left to prove,” he added. “We have everything to gain and a great opportunity ahead of us.”


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