Olympic gold in Qatar 2022? Canada at risk of becoming a footballing nation | Canada
In keeping with his times, Bill Manning did his own research.
The Toronto FC president was inspired in his online trawl not by pandemic conspiracies, but by Canada’s sporting past.
Manning’s stunning and successful pursuit of Napoli and Italy star Lorenzo Insigne ended earlier this month, with the winger becoming the richest signing in Major League Soccer history. It all started with Manning in front of a laptop browsing transfermarkt.com for the kind of stop-the-world signing that this moment in Canadian football called for, if not demanding.
“Lorenzo Insigne is going to be a player that people want to come see,” Manning said when the deal, which sees Insigne paid $15 million a year for the next four years, was confirmed. “We think the World Cup here in Toronto in 2026 [is] is going to be a transformative time for this sport in this country and we want to be at the forefront.
The ambition and execution of the transfer was impressive. But Manning may still have been a little behind on one of his numbers. This moment of transformation could arrive well before the summer of 2026. In truth, there is a feeling in Canada that over the past six months, it has already begun.
In August, the Canadian women’s team won historic Olympic gold in Tokyo. Then the men’s team continued its emergence as the most improved team in the world. When you add the Insigne coup, it was an unparalleled period north of 49th. On the eve of a six-day international window that could end with Canada qualifying for a men’s World Cup for the first time since the 1980s, the idea that Canada has now become a footballing nation is growing. is gradually moving away from the territory of provocative tweets and towards reality.
“That’s the definition of serious momentum, isn’t it?” Steven Caldwell told the Guardian this week. “There is no other way to look at it than to say that the sport in this country is at its highest level.”
Caldwell, like many in and around the Canadian game, is a blower. First-, second-, and next-generation Canadians have long seized football’s place in the sporting hierarchy here. Caldwell has called the countryside home for nine years, but is uniquely positioned to watch change. The former Scotland defender has also captained Toronto FC, is an analyst for Canadian network TSN and was part of the Canadian men’s backstage team as recently as last summer.
“To see this success of the national team – women and men – this ambitious value to see a team win a gold medal or at the top of the last qualifying stage for a World Cup, it is incredible,” said Caldwell. “[TFC owners] MLSE felt the moment. Insigne’s arrival at the TFC is a by-product of the successes of the national teams, particularly the men’s. The fact that they’re heading into the World Cup and there’s this fervor, looking at the numbers through the roof, this excitement of what’s next, MLSE doesn’t want to miss that.
Where Manning’s first-Insignia-and-then-the-world energy might have been trampled on not too long ago, it is now rightly praised. MLSE also owns the NBA’s Raptors and Toronto’s most infamous (and infamous) team, the NHL’s Maple Leafs. Insigne’s contract will see him rival most of the highest-paid Raptors and eclipse every Leafs player. A bet ? May be. But also a sign of the times. And perhaps a more permanent change.
John Herdman and his team of effervescent youngsters, stubborn and tough experience and focus and heart also won minds and eyes as they took early control of the final stage of Qatar 2022 qualifying in the fall. .
The numbers speak for themselves: when Alphonso Davies lit up Toronto with an electrifying goal to defeat Panama in October, the television audience was 342,000. The following month, when Jonathan David scored the only goal against Costa Rica, that number doubled. Four days later, a milestone was reached when nearly 1.2 million people watched the historic 2-1 triumph over Mexico on a freezing night in Edmonton.
“The Mexico game was up there with NHL games going on at the same time,” Adam Seaborn, a Toronto-based sports marketing and audience expert, told The Guardian. “What it tells me when you access so many in such a short time is something we’ve seen here before – when a Canadian story emerges, viewership can increase dramatically. The country loves a Canadian story and it becomes a great thing.
Herdman is a coach and leader who leans into storytelling and plot. He approaches the themes as freely as the teams, shells the press conferences by talking about moments and missions. At the start of qualifying, he spoke to the Guardian about the evidence that “a guy who’s read 400 books is [as capable of succeeding as a coach] like a guy who’s played 400 games.
So far he has. Never more than in November, when Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium became the Ice library and Mexico froze in frenzy. Defenseman Sam Adekugbe’s celebratory dive into a pitchside snowbank instantly became what is known in these parts as a Canadian Heritage Moment.
The country continues to buy. Sunday’s encounter with the United States in Hamilton (between away games against Honduras and El Salvador) sold out before tickets even went on general sale. With Drake and Justin Trudeau clamoring for a selfie, Davies is becoming the kind of cultural and crossover star that no male footballer has ever come close to being here.
Caldwell marvels at how far the men’s team has come. While the women’s team, which Herdman coached before switching jobs, kept the fire going for so long, their male counterparts floundered. Not just decades in the desert after their lone World Cup appearance in 1986, but new nadirs even in the last decade, an 8-1 humiliated by Honduras in 2012, the lowest.
“Playing for Scotland you know your grandma is watching, everyone is watching the country,” Caldwell said. “When I came here to Canada, I never had that feeling. I didn’t even know there were national team matches. I would wonder where some of my teammates [had] faded away. I couldn’t believe it.
When Herdman took over in 2019, Canada was 94th in the men’s standings, just above the Faroe Islands. At the end of 2021, they were 40th, named Fifa’s most improved team, topped Concacaf qualifying as top scorers, best common defense and only unbeaten team.
Perhaps most impressive is that Herdman and his team have taken a gifted young generation that doesn’t bear the scars of the past and mixed them in with others that do: their 39-year-old captain , Atiba Hutchison, is healing and defying age in midfield. . Herdman also unearthed gems that caught the eye of Europe’s elite.
Even since that game against Mexico, winger Tajon Buchanan joined Club Brugge and midfielder Stephen Eustáquio joined Porto. Lille striker David is expected to join Bayern Munich’s Davies in the upper echelons soon.
In such a crucial three-game window and with so much at stake, the loss of Davies (due to Covid complications) for the games to come could have crushed previous Canadian generations. Not so this one.
“The collective sum of their parts is what they’re going through, so I don’t think they’ll be fazed,” Caldwell insisted. “They believe 100 per cent that they can win the group and that’s important. It’s about proving that point.
“John has done great things in terms of culture. These guys understand that this is about jersey code and a nation, to change the game in this country forever.