I don’t think anyone can argue with that assessment after Canada was eliminated from World Cup qualifying with a 3-1 defeat to Honduras on Saturday evening.
Canada now has one point from four games and sits in last place in CONCACAF Group B, trailing leaders Mexico and Honduras, who both have nine points. Jamaica is in third place with four points with only two games remaining.
So, who is to blame for our abject performance?
There will be plenty of people who blame head coach Dale Mitchell. There will be more people who blame the Canadian Soccer Association, the organization in charge of governing the game in our country. Still others will fault the players who failed to live up to their own expectations.
So let’s take a look at it one by one.
The case against coach Dale Mitchell
I feel sorry for Dale Mitchell. Clearly not the first person on the short list for the job, Mitchell was always going to have a hard time convincing people that he was the right man to lead Canada to South Africa in 2010. From the minute he took the job he faced scepticism from the media, from supporters and, if you believe Jim Brennan and Dwayne De Rosario, from the players as well.
I’m sure if given the opportunity, there are things that Dale would do differently. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, after all. Player selections and tactics are terrific topics to debate, and there are armchair managers across the country who think they “could have done a better job.”
But the reality is that coaching the men’s World Cup team is a very difficult job at the best of times. Throw into the mix that you have a small pool of players to choose from, most of whom play overseas, a miniscule budget to work with and an association that at times appears to be working against you, and it is a daunting task to say the least.
Is Dale solely to blame for our failure to qualify? Of course not. But he will take some of the blame, because managers are judged on results and the results of this qualifying campaign have been disastrous.
The case against the Canadian Soccer Association
Which leads me to the Canadian Soccer Association. I don’t even know where to start.
Can someone please tell me how “maximizing ticket revenue” is going to help us get to the World Cup? Because that is why we played Jamaica in Toronto, Honduras in Montreal and Mexico in Edmonton.
Maximizing ticket revenue. Not maximizing home field advantage. Maximizing ticket revenue.
You see, it was hoped that Canada would beat Jamaica and Honduras in the first two home games, thus ensuring that the game against Mexico in Edmonton would be of great importance. Important game equals big audience. Big audience means lots of ticket revenue.
Well, that didn’t really go to plan, did it?
The players were asked by the CSA where they wanted to play the qualifying games. The players made it very clear that they wanted to play in Montreal because it had the best surface in the country (freak rainy season aside) and it was easy to get to from Europe.
The smart move would have been to play all the games in Montreal. Why? Because it eliminates excuses. Players can’t blame the coach, the CSA, the pitch or the travel arrangements because it was their choice. The only ones left to be accountable are the players.
The case against the players
Speaking of which, I have no doubt that this is one of the most talented Canadian teams we have ever had. Julian De Guzman, Atiba Hutchinson and Dwayne De Rosario are all fantastic footballers. Our midfield is probably the best we’ve ever had. But this is also probably the weakest we have ever been defensively. Which is bizarre, because traditionally that has always been our strength.
Mind you, we have always had to be good defensively just to survive. We could never compete with the likes of Mexico, the United States or Costa Rica when it came to technical ability, so we had to rely on being very well organized and solid defensively.
We haven’t found an adequate successor to Craig Forrest in goal, and there is no one in the current team in the mould of a Randy Samuel, an Ian Bridge or a Mark Watson - out and out defenders who led by example. Some of the goals that have been conceded in this campaign are simply unacceptable at the international level.
Are the players solely to blame for our failure to make it through to the next round? Not entirely, but ultimately they will have to shoulder much of the responsibility for not performing when it mattered the most. They are all professionals, and whatever criticisms you or I may have, they will have to accept them and move on.
I have read all sorts of reports recently, from both the media and supporters alike, questioning whether or not these players have the heart to play for Canada, whether or not they are a bunch of overpaid, whining prima donnas. This is an accusation that really bothers me. Maybe this story will put it into context.
When I put in a transfer request to leave Dundee United in 2001, I could have gone to a number of good clubs in England. A few eyebrows were raised when I signed for unfashionable Wigan, then in the second division, two levels below the Premier League. You want to know one of the reasons I signed for them?
Wigan were the only club - the ONLY club - who didn't insist that I retire from international football if I signed for them. Every other club that I spoke to wanted an agreement in place that at the age of 27, while I was captaining my country, that I would never play for Canada again.
Luckily for me, Paul Jewell was a great manager who understood what playing for my country meant to me. I had three very enjoyable years at Wigan, a club that has since gone on to bigger and better things.
That is what it is like being a Canadian footballer in Europe. Playing for Canada doesn't enhance your career prospects in Europe. It hinders them. And I can guarantee you that each and every one of the players on the national team today will have a similar story to mine. Yet our players continue to come back to pull on that red jersey. Not because it will make them rich or famous. They do it because they want to play for Canada in the World Cup.
So give them and Dale Mitchell some credit for representing Canada to the best of their abilities. Maybe in four years their best will be good enough.
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