Benito Floro named Canadian men's soccer coach
Veteran manager ran Real Madrid
Benito Floro has more than a few treasured memories of managing Real Madrid.
But one stands out for the 61-year-old Spaniard, who was in charge of the Spanish giant from 1992 to 1994 and served as director of football at the Bernabeu in 2006.
"The best was when we beat Barcelona, playing well," Floro said through an interpreter.
Having once managed what is currently the world's most valuable soccer club team, Floro's brief now is to help Canada beat the likes of Honduras, Panama and others in CONCACAF and move closer to an elusive World Cup berth.
In addition to serving as Canadian manager, Floro also takes over a national Olympic (under-23) team which has failed to qualify for the Games since 1984.
For some, taking over a country ranked 88th in the world, 10th in CONCACAF and with just three pro teams — largely stocked with foreigners — and turning it into a winner would be mission impossible.
But Floro seems to relish the challenge that is Canadian soccer.
"Muchisimo," he said Friday. "A lot," said his interpreter.
He succeeds Stephen Hart, who stepped down in October following the national team's humiliating exit from World Cup qualifying via an 8-1 loss in Honduras.
In getting Floro, the Canadian Soccer Association has landed a career coach who has managed club sides in Spain, Ecuador, Japan, Mexico and Morocco.
Floro turned heads some 20 years ago when he led Albacete Balompie from the third division to Spain's elite league in three seasons. Real Madrid subsequently hired him, with Floro taking the team to a second-place league finish and Copa del Ray triumph. Real went on to win the Spanish Supercup but Floro was fired the following season.
He then coached Sporting Gijon, Villareal and Mallorca in Spain, Vissel Kobe in Japan, Monterrey in Mexico, Barcelona SD in Ecuador, and Wydad Casablanca in Morocco.
Away from the pitch, he has served as a TV analyst and was a member of FIFA's technical group at the 2012 Club World Cup.
"We felt that at this time in our country, that the person (getting the job) needed to be not just a coach. But also a person that brought vast experience from all over the world to a country that has been quite frankly lacking in that type of personality," said CSA president Victor Montagliani.
The CSA boss might have been forgetting Holger Osieck, who took over the Canadian team in 1999, having been part of the German coaching staff that won the World Cup in 1990. Osieck had managed in Germany, Japan and Turkey before taking over Canada.
On Friday, Floro spoke enthusiastically in Spanish, English and French at an introductory news conference. He used an interpreter during a question-and-answer session but was able to communicate in English — which he called his third language.
Floro's contract includes several options and could run through the next two World Cup qualifying rounds — for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. Canada, which has only ever made it to the 1986 World Cup, will be a spectator against in 2014.
"You have to walk before you can run," Montagliani said. "The first objective is obviously to get us to the Hex (the final round of qualifying in CONCACAF). You can't get into the World Cup if you don't get into the Hex ... once you get into the Hex, as we've seen this year, anything can happen."
Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama and the U.S., are currently competing in the Hex or Hexagonal final round of qualifying. The top three will qualify for the 2014 World Cup, with the fourth-place team taking on New Zealand in a playoff to join them from CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Floro ticks off more than a few boxes, leaving Canadian soccer officials beaming at Friday's news conference.
He has extensive managerial experience around the globe, including time in CONCACAF powerhouse Mexico. Having Real Madrid on your resume is impressive, even if 19 managers have followed him there since.
Admit it. When was the last time you heard Real Madrid and the Canadian Soccer Association in the same sentence?
Being from Spain, which currently rules the soccer roost, doesn't hurt either. It's like the Spanish ice hockey federation signing a Canuck.
In hiring the charismatic Floro, Canada also likely gets access to some excellent connections. One doesn't manage as long as Floro without assembling an impressive Rolodex.
"It changes the ability and the accessibility of Canada to a different world," said Montagliani. "A lot of doors are now open."
In fact, Floro — who considers himself a coach of coaches — came to the CSA's attention through Montagliani's friendship with his Spanish counterpart.
While this is Floro's first national team job, he came close to being named manager of Spain after Inaki Saez resigned following Spain's failure to advance past the first round of Euro 2004.
Asked about it, Floro paused and took his time before responding.
"It was a difficult situation for the (Spanish federation) president," he said. "He chose me but the media was pressuring him to (choose) another."
Floro backed down to take the pressure off Angel Maria Villar, president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation, who was a friend.
Luis Aragones got the Spain job instead.
Montagliani downplayed Floro's lack of national team coaching experience.
"Let's be honest. Look at the clubs he's coached," he said. "When you stand on the sidelines of (the 85,000-seat stadium) Bernabeu and you're coaching El Clasico (against FC Barcelona), I'm not sure coaching the national team is that intimidating."
Floro, who plans to make his home in Toronto, will be assisted by his son Antonio Floro.
The Canadian men are currently at the Gold Cup, the championship for North and Central America and the Caribbean, under interim coach Colin Miller.
Floro will officially start Aug. 1 but will be at the Gold Cup as an observer.
Montagliani said the CSA received more than 100 applications, with 15 getting serious consideration.