How much better is Canada's 2022 team than the 2002 team?
Nearing the end stages of CONCACAF qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, we all now know the 2022 CanMNT team is a very good one. But how much better are they than past teams who have tried and failed to get to World Cups? In interviews, current coach John Herdman says the coaching staff looked and analyzed past teams and saw quality; that there were players plying their trade all over in Europe's top leagues, just as with the current team. But something was missing - team camaraderie.
Point 1 - The CanMNT trying to qualify for for the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan was fairly decent. Some would say they were mismanaged by the coach at the time, Holger Osieck, even though they had just won the 2000 Gold Cup and had participated in the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup as the champions from CONCACAF under him. In the Confederations Cup, they wound up last in their group where they lost to Japan (3-0) and Cameroon (2-0), but did get some consolation and at least picked up one point when they drew with powerhouse Brazil (0-0). Once again, they were unable to score a goal at an international tournament. If Owen Hargreaves had opted to play for Canada, would it have provided the boost they need to qualify? Let's have a look at what that team might have looked like.
Brazilian forward Leandro (7) collides with Canadian captain Jason Devos (5) during their second Confederations Cup match in Kashima, 100 kilometers north of Tokyo, 02 June 2001. Brazil and Canada played to a 0-0 draw. AFP PHOTO KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP) (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images)
If Hargreaves had been inserted into the starting XI of the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup team:
Manager - Holger Osieck
GK - Craig Forrest (West Ham United - English Premier)
DF - Jason de Vos (Wigan Athletic - English Div. 2)
DF - Tony Menezes (Botafugo RJ - Brazil Série A)
DF - Richard Hastings (Inverness CT - Scottish Div. 1)
MF - Jim Brennan (Nottingham Forest - English Div. 1)
MF - Paul Stalteri (Werder Bremen - German Bundesliga)
MF - Dwayne De Rosario (San Jose Earthquakes - MLS)
MF - Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich - German Bundesliga)
MF - Daniel Imhof (FC St. Gallen - Swiss National League A)
FW - Carlo Corrazin (Oldham Athletic - English Div. 2)
FW - Paul Peschisolido (Fulham - English Premier)
There was also a young Julian de Guzman on the squad who was another Canadian playing in the German Bundesliga at the time with Hannover 96. That's not a bad team and, looking at where they were playing, the top leagues in Germany, Scotland, Switzerland and England.
Point 2 - Is the current team really the "Golden Generation" with players that much better than teams from the past?
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 07: Players of Canada line up prior the match between Mexico and Canada as part of the Concacaf 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier at Azteca Stadium on October 07, 2021 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Manager - John Herdman
GK - Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade - Serbian Superliga)
DF - Sam Adekugbe (Hatayspor - Turkish Süper Lig)
DF - Alistair Johnston (CF Montreal - MLS)
DF - Steven Vittoria (Moreirense FC - Portugal Primeira Liga)
MF - Atiba Hutchinson (Beşiktaş JK - Turkish Süper Lig )
MF - Stephen Eustáquio - FC Porto - Portugal Primeira Liga)
MF - Richie Laryea (Nottingham Forest - English Championship)
MF - Tajon Buchanan (Club Brugge - Belgium Division 1 A)
MF - Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich - German Bundesliga)
FW - Jonathan David (Lille OSC - France Ligue 1 )
FW - Cyle Larin (Beşiktaş JK - Turkish Süper Lig)
Most of the 2022 players are at the top leagues in the countries where they play, while the 2002 team had some players at lower English divisions (Div 2 and 3). However, the 2002 team had something the 2022 doesn't have - players in the English Premiership - Craig Forrest, Paul Peschisolido and Tomasz Radzinski were starters on big teams in England who rarely got any press back in Canada. It would be quite different these days if a Canadian player plays in the EPL. The 2002 also had more players in the German Bundesliga (3 - Paul Stalteri, Owen Hargreaves and Julian de Guzman vs. only Alphonso Davies on the 2022 team). The 2002 team had some top end players playing at big clubs in England and Germany, but none considered world-class the way Alphonso Davies and possibly Jonathan David are. It could be argued that there is better depth in 2022 than there was in 2002 with better quality substitutes.
Overall, it's a bit of a saw-off over which team is better.
Point 3 - Is the difference in the coaching? Is John Herdman that much better of a coach than Holger Osieck?
Current CanMNT head coach John Herdman
Former CanMNT head coach Holger Osieck
Probably. At this time, Herdman seems to be the total package - a player's coach who emphasizes teamwork, unity and brotherhood among his players which he combines with superior tactical skills and attention to detail. Both players from the women's and men's team have talked about Herdman being a master motivator and able to get the most out of his players. When talking about tactics, Herdman's face lights up and he is completely giddy about talking how to attack opposing teams. This current men's team plays more like a club team than an international team whose players rarely get to play much together and have little chemistry with each other. They are able to switch formations fluidly and easily to counter what opposing teams are doing or to impose their will. His attention to detail is legendary and there is very little that is left unplanned and to chance. He is also humble enough and continuously wanting to improve himself that he'll frequently pick the brains of his players at big clubs, once noting that he took pages of notes listening to Alphonso Davies describe the preparations Bayern was making while getting ready for their Champions League final against PSG, noting what worked and what didn't work.
Holger had success winning Canada's only tournament trophy with the Gold Cup in 2000, along the way beating Trinidad, Mexico and South American invitees Colombia. That success did not do much to get Canada into another World Cup. In his 4+ years as CanMNT head coach, he had one chance to get Canada to the World Cup and failed in 2002 without even getting to the Hex. Players described him as old school and serious but could also be friendly, caring and gregarious. Surprisingly, they were surprised he wasn't much of a tactician, preferring mainly to getting players lined up to formation and telling them to play their position
Canada has always had quality but this time around, they have very high-end talent combined with the right coach at the right time, who came to them through some out-of-the-box thinking by bringing him over from the women's team. That may be the formula for success in Qatar.