On the eve of the World Cup I, like many Canadian youth soccer has-been’s, imagined waking up, throwing on my old U-17 Canadian soccer jersey, and hitting the streets to support our nation at the most prestigious stage. Unfortunately the stark reality is rather simple. Canada’s World Cup dreams were snuffed out in brutal fashion over a year ago when Honduras put them to the sword 8-1 in a do-or-die qualifying match.
At this point in my life I am 30 years old, making me two years old the last time Canada reached this glorious tournament. It has been 28 long years since we have reached the final 32 team tournament, 28 long years indeed.
The point of this blog isn’t to simply state the obvious fact that we stink on the international stage, but rather to discuss the very real fact that there have been, and are currently, players from Canada playing on the world’s biggest stage: Jonathan de Guzman, Asmir Begovic and Owen Hargreaves have all joined this illustrious club.
Its frustrating, to say the least, when you see players who could have represented Canada playing for another country, but honestly can you really blame them?
As far as I see it all three players have strong explanations and rationale for not pulling on the red and white.
Three days ago the youthful, fearless, clinical, and well organized Holland rolled the former world champions of Spain 5-1, and on the pitch was the born and raised Scarborough, Ontario native, Jonathan de Guzman. For the well-oiled Canadian soccer fans, the de Guzman family is a household name. I remember first hearing about Jonathan when he was the tender age of 13. Jonathan, the younger brother of Julian, progressed through the Feyenoord Academy and broke into the first team in 2005. I remember thinking to myself, “okay this is going to be really good for Canada. No way will he end up being good enough to play for the Dutch men’s side? Surely he will suit up for Canada and play alongside his brother in Canada’s midfield?”
Well boy was I wrong. Holland is a world leading nation at developing young talent and the Feyenoord Academy saw the athletic potential in Jonathan. So here we are today watching a Canadian born player mark Iniesta in a World Cup opener.
Honestly you can’t really blame the young lad at all. At the age of 13 he left Canada and moved to Holland – it is Holland who developed him into the player he is today – not Canada. As frustrating as it is to see, Jonathan is having the last laugh.
Another player who has a Canadian passport is Asmir Begovic. Arguable the best goalie in last year’s English Premier League – a shot stopping general at the back – today Asmir is representing his country of birth, Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the age of four Asmir and his family emigrated from their war-torn home of Trebinje to Kirchhausen near Stuttgart in Germany. While there Asmir developed a keen interest in soccer and played with a local youth club before their asylum ran out and they were forced to move again, this time to Edmonton, Canada.
If you don’t already know, Asmir represented Canada at the U-20 World Cup. Furthermore, Canada had the opportunity to Cap him with the men’s full team but failed to do so. This was a complete blunder, a missed opportunity for the ages. Shortly thereafter Asmir developed into a world class keeper and when his birth country came knocking he jumped at the opportunity. Honestly I can’t really blame Asmir either. Today he is playing on the world’s biggest stage.
The last player I want to touch on is Owen Hargreaves. Does everyone remember him? Owen grew up in Calgary, Alberta, and on the 1st of July 1997 left Canada at the age of 16 to go play for the German juggernauts Bayern Munich. Ironically enough he wasn’t selected for the Canadian U-17 squad shortly before he left. It’s no wonder when England came calling Owen opted for the latter. What’s more, Owen was widely regarded as the best player for England at the World Cup in Germany 2006.
So where am I going with this?
All three players have differing stories, but they are all largely connected by one common thread. Canada never looked likely to stand a chance at making the World Cup and every player in the world wants to play in the World Cup!
We need to develop a Canadian soccer culture where players are proud when they pull on the red and white. We desperately need to start developing Canadian players at home and do our best to keep them emotionally invested in the country they are from, or immigrated to. I find it scary to look at our current men’s national team and see how spread all over the world everyone is.
How do you build a Canadian soccer culture when the team members range from over 20 differing counties?
How do you build a Canadian soccer culture at the U-17 level when we still have to battle with an east vs. west mentality? Or even a French vs. English rivalry? This is a reality that I have had first-hand experience with during my time playing with Canada at the U-17 level.
Its going to be a long road ahead if we ever intend to make the world cup in the future – but, I can assure you, it will be an even long road ahead if our best players continue to snub our national team in the hopes of playing for a country that actually has a chance to play on the world biggest stage.
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