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Montreal Impact, Soccer Culture, World Cups & Coaching ...

As promised, more from Jorge Sanchez, whom we interviewed last week for our ‘Montreal Football Folk’ series.

Jorge Sanchez, in coaching for 27 years, still holds lots of passion, opinions and ideas on The Beautiful Game.

We featured Jorge Sanchez as #2 in our series Montreal Football Folk, earlier in the week. In this article we feature some interesting insight and opinion from the man who’s been in and around Montreal and Canadian soccer for most of his 53 years.

Editor - Jorge, you’ve been around the coaching scene in Montreal for a long time. Would you say that there’s still too many instances where parents are coaching rather than qualified soccer coaches?

Jorge - It’s getting better now - I think it’s changing. I was part of a leading generation of coaches who did it because we wanted to be there. We actually wanted to coach soccer, we weren’t parents taking care of kids’ recreation.

Editor - Has a lack of financial resources restricted development?

Jorge - We actually started saying our time should be paid for. Working with the Federation I was a coach director, and used to start [my opening address to parents] with a joke saying, ‘We’re all here today because when you registered your kid for soccer there was a little box on the form that asks, would you like to be involved in coaching, and you were dumb enough to say “Yes”’.

Now, most clubs have paid positions as technical directors or academy directors - they don’t pay all the coaches necessarily, but now at the triple AAA, the bigger clubs are paying a stipend, but they’re actually at least covering expense and a little bit of pocket money for coaches who coach the so-called elite.

[There is] still a long way to go, but now there are people making a career out of coaching.
In the early 90’s coaches weren’t getting paid at all. And women’s soccer coaches were treated even worse than that.

Editor - Do you feel that the government, whether provincial or federal, and Canada Soccer have provided enough support?

Jorge - No. Not enough support. Canada has an event driven mentality. Things are going well, we promote, invest, get behind, and when things go badly we complain, criticize, take money away.

Editor - How about the Men’s National Team. there’s been a resurgence of home lately, that’s been recently deflated by the defeat to Haiti. Thoughts?

Jorge - With the men’s side, there are many reasons; geographical reasons, weather reasons, infra-structure reasons why we will have a tough time competing.

People point to the new CanPL, but how is it going to help us? It’s a third/fourth tier league and they’re going to be able to create players that will compete against internationals from Manchester, Chelsea, Real, Barca?

Soccer: CONCACAF Gold Cup-Haiti at Canada
According to Jorge, CanPL is not likely to have any effect on the development of the Men’s National Team seen here in recent action v Haiti
Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

I’m a big believer that it may give an outlet for younger players, if used properly, so when they get to 17/18 and don’t have the money to continue to play at club-level, because the reality here is that you pay to play. That’s unlike everywhere else in the world, where the better you are, the more you play.

I think in Canada and North America you have a mentality where, the elite subsidies the masses. In most other countries at their top sports, it’s the other way around, the masses subsidize the elite, and that’s a big difference.

Editor - So is CanPL a complete waste of time?

Jorge - CanPL will help find those 3 or 4 players that maybe got lost in the shuffle and didn’t make their provincial team or didn’t make youth national at 17 or 18, and then didn’t have an outlet. Now they have an outlet.

Maybe Ottawa (if they join CanPL) has a player who turns out to develop later in life and he gets to play in a pro environment and maybe gets signed by Toronto FC or the Impact, or possibly a European team. But I don’t think it’s going to make us stronger.

Editor - Would a national league help the women’s national team or do the same arguments apply as for the men?

Jorge - After Canada splashed out of the Women’s World Cup, people said, ‘See, if we had a domestic women’s league, we’d be doing better’. But I don’t believe so. You will never convince me that a domestic league is going to help us develop elite level players.

Editor - So is there a solution?

Jorge - Well, the North American model doesn’t work. They play club soccer, then go to Uni, you do your 4 years at NCAA, super-draft all this stuff .... even in MLS it doesn’t work for me, and on the women’s side it’s going to work even less.

There’s been 3 or 4 versions of the US Pro-League, and we have 9 teams, I think it is in the NWSL, three are struggling financially, and two have changed names in recent times.

And now you are seeing the leagues develop n Europe, where women pro players are living a 12 month experience, as pros. Yes the US will win the WC (this interview was conducted before the semi-finals took place), but the gap is getting closer.

Editor - How much of everything is down to tradition and culture - European tradition v North American player development methods?

Jorge - Well undoubtedly there is the cultural context. Hockey is king in Canada and will continue to be so. Even to the point where you look at hockey on the women’s side, for years in Canada and the US, comparing it to women’s soccer which was considered the watered down version of ‘real’ (men’s) soccer, but yet people get behind women’s hockey as if it is the greatest thing around.

But for years it was Canada and the US and they’d play these tournaments, then they’d play each other in the final year after year after year after year, and they still find a way to get behind it. But yes, it is the school versus club mentality.

It’s the proximity too. I always joke because sport is more of a business model in North America. Each city has one clear franchise in each sport. How many pro-teams are there in London? How many Premiership teams have you in London? But suggest we have 2 MLS franchises in Montreal, and people freak out, because you can’t support.

Now population bases are bigger, but there is something culturally tied into soccer [unlike other sports]. Like, go to every country and you have, well like Manchester: Red or a Blue, Liverpool: Red or a Blue, Glasgow: Celtic or Rangers.

Jorge feels that the intensity and passion you find in European cities that support more than one club is mostly missing in North America.

It ties into social classes, it ties into religion, it ties into various every-day things. And people [here] don’t get that. The word fan comes from fanatic, and that really comes from the European model of soccer, or football. Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid - the team of the people against the team of the elite.

And that’s where for me soccer has two folds. Being proud of being Spanish, being proud of the sport of my background and for me it gave me a voice. It gave me a part of my personality that my coaching was not just about coaching the sport, and I took it on as part of my responsibility to advocate for women’s sports.

Editor - From your experience how has coaching in Canada evolved from when you first started out?

Jorge - Biggest difference when I was younger and started coaching. In my mind when people were demeaning women’s sports, I knew it was wrong and I’d sort of speak up, but not with the same confidence as when I got older. When I started coaching and colleagues at work would find out I coach women’s sports, there would be all kinds of what now we’d say are misogynistic or sexist comments.

Back then it was locker-room banter, as Donald Trump would say. ‘Oh you’re lucky, you get to coach women, you see them in shorts and tight t-shirts .... ‘ And it blew my mind! I’d be thinking, ‘You’re an idiot.’ Later on and now, I would actually tell them, ‘You are an idiot.’ That’s part of my evolution as a coach I guess.

I was among the first young generation of coaches that said, ‘You’re expecting us to put in all this time, where’s the money? You’re asking me to put in 10-15 hours per week to coach a club, at least pay for my gas? Or if we go to nationals .... I’m taking your club to nationals, at least pay for my hotel room?’

Then I went onto the Federation, and if you consider my hourly salary from the Federation, it was lower than welfare, so we started to advocate we should be compensated somewhat for our time. And I’d like to think that our efforts, those of us now in our 50’s who begun coaching in our late 20’s and 30’s, have opened the doors for clubs to realize that we [as a sport] should invest in coaching. [Invest in] a few people with a background in coaching, so although most of our base is volunteers, we should have someone who knows what they are talking about, overseeing the volunteers.

Editor - With the World Cup coming to North America, including Canada in seven years time, do you expect more government money will become available to help with developing players and infra-structure?

Jorge - I would hope there is more money available for two reasons, because the timeline is greater than when Canada got the u20 Women’s World Cup, which was under-attended.

And a little anecdote about that. When it came around because they were trying to promote it, the organizers invited a lot of University coaches to a press conference, at the time I was head coach at Concordia. I won’t mention the person’s name, but he was fairly well-known in Quebec soccer.

This person was bragging about how we’d be hosting a WC here in Canada, and if we do a good job, one day we may get the real World Cup. In other words this wasn’t the real World Cup, it was the girls’ World Cup.

And he was organizing the Montreal games. The point I’m trying to make is; yes they may release more money just like they did for the Women’s World Cup in 2015, but what has been the legacy since then? [None] it’s all been a PR move.

Anyway we’re not hosting. We’re co-hosting with two other countries where soccer is ahead of us. I do think Mexico has a bit of that cultural tie-in. I don’t think the US has, necessarily. But I think it is still bigger in the US because of their population base.

Soccer: Mexico vs Wales
Mexicans do have that cultural tie-in to the game. The rest of North America lags behind ....
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

And that’s why the US women’s team continue to dominate, because of their population base. When you select 22 players out of how many million, it’s going to be much easier than selecting 22 players out of a couple of hundred thousand.

So how many games are we going to get? What is the legacy going to be? Go back to Brazil in 2014. What is the legacy there after the World Cup? A soccer-mad country already, how many of their stadiums are sitting just like big parking lots just now? Did it make them a better footballing nation by hosting the WC? Not really. Same scenario coming up again in three years [in Qatar].

Montreal might get two games. Are we going to build a new, futuristic stadium to host two games? I’d be surprised.

And are we going to invest more money? We probably won’t have to qualify being one of the hosts, so we don’t need to invest to qualify, likelihood is we’re already there.

Editor - Do you think Canada is on the right lines with the Men’s program despite the defeat to Haiti?

Jorge - Look how fickle we are. Recently, we went from, ‘I can’t believe the women’s coach is now coaching the men’s team. How are we ever going to succeed?’ to ‘Wow! He’s really doing well. Look! they’re getting better, they’re getting better!!’. All of a sudden John Herdman looks like genius, then they lose to Haiti at the Gold Cup and it’s back to, ‘Well that’s what happens when you have a coach that can only coach women, in charge of the men’s team’.

Soccer: 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying - Finals-Canada at USA
John Herdman a recent favourite target for fickle Canadian fans.
Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

We’re so fickle. We expected him to turn around a program that’s struggled for 30 years in 6 months?

I saw some of the stuff on social media, and got into a few exchanges with people. And they said, ‘You are a big fan of Herdman?’ I responded by saying, ‘I’m a big fan of the human being’.

I’ve been in room with him. There are times I heard him do presentations and I do think he is an inspirational individual. Do I think he made good decisions with his line-up, soccer-wise? No!

Do I think he was opportunistic in forcing his way onto the men’s program? Absolutely. I think he saw a collapse potentially happening at the women’s side at this World Cup and he used the fact that his name was being bandied about to take over the English squad, and it’s not the first time he did it.

When they [England] hired the predecessor to Phil Neville, Samson, John’s name was going around and he got himself a contract extension [with Canada]. I don’t think you can play that game twice. So now he’s said, ‘Well, I have career ambitions and I have an assistant coach who was a head coach before ...’ so he has used his leverage with back to back bronze medals, ‘ ... and as I’ve got the team to be ranked 4th or 5th, we have a core group of players, the assistant coach can take over. If you don’t give me what I want, I’m going to page England’.

Because it doesn’t make sense [otherwise]. Who’s going to leave a World Cup team to coach a team that’s ranked 90-something in the world? No pressure to coach the men. Most human beings would do the same thing. He did what was good for his career. He had accomplished on the womens side, as we’ve seen, so that unless they won the World Cup or got to the semis, it was going to be a disappointment.

You go from 12th in the world to 4th or 5th, there becomes a lot of expectation, so you are setting yourself up to be disappointed and be seen as a failure. You go to the men’s side and any little stride forward is seen as an improvement, and if he succeeds, then he’s set himself up for life.

Editor - Canada have had a long list of coaches ...

Jorge - Look at the history from the 1986 World Cup; they had 21 coaching changes in 33 years, and a lot of those changes were the same guys coming back. Colin Miller, Tony Waiters, Lenarduzzi, Steven Hart, you let him go, we bring him back, Dale Mitchell, oh he’s not good, they get rid of him.

The two or three times they thought outside the box, They got Holger Osieck. He came in, changed everything, varied things, they didn’t give him what he wanted, so screw you, I’m leaving.

Soccer - FIFA Confederations Cup - Group B - Cameroon v Canada
Holger Osieck - didn’t stick around ...
Photo by Tony Marshall/EMPICS via Getty Images

They got Benito Flores, and it’s Wow! we have a former coach of Real Madrid. He coached Real Madrid, 20-something years prior to coming to Canada!

And because I am an insider and I know a lot of people involved, not just in women’s soccer, but soccer in general, I know he (Flores) did it so his son could get a job. He got the contract and put his son in charge. Then they both leave. And after another ‘interim’ we go get Zambrano.

Zambrano’s too big! Those top-level coaches have huge egos. They’re coming in thinking you’re going to give me what I need to be successful and when we don’t give it to them, they are strong enough to say, ‘screw you, I’m gone!’.

I don’t think he was let go because of how he treated players. I think he was let go because of how he treated the CSA. I think he wanted something they couldn’t give, because it’s not the first time that they had negotiated. There’s a few stories of big name coaches that they were bringing in. The coaches would be saying I’m bringing in my staff, I’m bringing in this and that, I want you guys to keep your hands off the team and so on. And the CSA is an ‘Old Boys’ club. Why have they recycled coaches so often? They keep bringing in guys they know they can control.

Editor - So lack of soccer culture is the biggest hurdle?

Jorge - Owen Hargreaves. It’s few years ago now, brought up in Calgary. He was cut from, I think, the u-17 Canadian team. Apparently the anecdote is that the coach said, ‘if you’re hoping to be a professional footballer, not going to happen’. So let me go play for Bayern Munich and in England with Manchester [United], and win the UEFA Champions League with each. And that’s the problem here, we don’t understand the culture of football, or soccer, enough.

Manchester United v Chelsea UEFA Champions League Final 2008
Owen Hargreaves who grew up in Calgary, seen here winning his second UEFA Champions’ League with Manchester United. He’d already won the title with Bayern Munich and played for England at the 2006 World Cup
Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

It happens everywhere, you can go both sides of the aisle between women’s and men’s soccer. Phil Neville, distinguished career as a player, assistant coach at Everton, followed his brother to Spain for a while to be assistant coach [at Valencia]. His name was nowhere, nowhere, on the radar to coach the England women. When they announced him, people were shocked. ‘I can’t believe they’re not giving someone a chance, there’s so many good women’s coaches out there, other male coaches who coach women’s soccer out there. Where is this guy, it’s ridiculous’.

Watch his (Neville’s) interaction with the players. Watch the little things he does. The players believed in him. it just shows that a good coach is a good coach regardless of gender or background.

He’s had to adapt to coaching women as opposed to coaching men, and the little things he’s done, the way he’s talked to players, the way he creates an atmosphere around the group ....

I read an article where during one of the first weeks of the WC, the players had changed hotels, their next game was in a different city. When they came back to their base hotel, he’d arranged for family members to send personal belongings for all the players, so when the women came back to their rooms they had these personal belongings waiting for them.
Now that would never work with men, they’re like, ‘who cares?’ But having only coached women those little things show that you care about them as individuals, as people and your not just pressing the lemon to get all the juice you can out of it.

England v Sweden: 3rd Place Match - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France
Phil Neville, the England coach at the recent Women’s World Cup, impressed Jorge on many levels, although he felt he was outcoached in the semi-final v USA.
Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Editor - What did you think of the USA celebrations in their 13-0 victory over Thailand?

Jorge - I thought the celebrations were excessive. I have no issue [with] Morgan going to sip tea after her goal. I actually saw a comment where they asked Jill Scott (England player) were you offended by that? She said, ‘She just scored a goal in the World Cup semi-final, she can do whatever she wants’.

In USA v Thailand the celebrations got more excessive as the score grew. As an individual player celebrating, I have no issue, but it’s when the team and everyone join in, for me that sort of went over the line a little bit.

I saw some supporters of women and women’s rights say, ‘Ahh, you wouldn’t complain if men did it’. But actually, I would. Men’s teams doing that at 13-0, or 7-0 or 6-0, yes, I would have an issue.

Editor - How about Spain at World Cups?

Jorge - What I remember about most World Cups is that we have so much potential and then we blow it. That’s what you remember as a Spaniard, we always had talented players. Then we had that run from 2008-2012 .... what other team in international competition has had a run like they did? And what makes it worse was how badly they dropped off after that. 2014 and 2018 both disaster World Cups - no fire. Eight million passes in a game, but how many times do you score?

FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia”Spain v Russia” Spain in Russia - Too many passes, not enough goals ...

Editor - And your views on how things are going at the Impact? I know you’re a match-going fan ...

Jorge - I’m enjoying them this year.

In Canadian-speak we’re a little bit too locally partisan at the Impact though. And then when you talk to some people on it, they feel to be a real Impact fan you gotta’ sit at the two extremities, be standing up the whole game, yelling and screaming the whole time, ringing the bell, and wearing the mask and all that.

And I get along with some of those people on twitter and social media, But it’s funny when they write things like, ‘Oh yeah, those people who want to go to a game with their family and sit on their ass all night ...’ Well it’s not that stand up or sit down that I know more, or less, about soccer. They don’t understand the cultural significance of the sport, and it’s great, they have created their own experience, which is fine .....

Editor - Do you feel they are trying too hard to mimic European fans?

Jorge - Yeah! But they sit there talking about PR moves and we had a better tailgate party. Well tailgate’s an American mentality, play-offs is an American mentality. There’s no tailgating in Europe, well there kinda’ is, but they don’t call it tailgating. You go there and there’s a bunch of people around the stadium, usually in the pub, and then they walk to the stadium, and after the game they leave the stadium.

In 2011, my wife and I were in London, and I called Tottenham, begged them, emailed them for tickets for my wife and I, told them it was our anniversary, and I was a soccer coach etc.
They called me back saying a member was giving up his two tickets and asked if I’d be interested? We were third row behind the player’s bench. And we took the train to Seven Sisters. There’s no tube station near the stadium, so we had to walk. And it is what it is, as a neighbourhood (done that walk, know exactly what you’re talking about - Ed).

There didn’t seem to be a stadium nearby and Lorraine my wife is wondering if we’re in the right spot. And then of course as we got closer, you would see the crowd building and building. And it was derby against Arsenal. So the atmosphere was fantastic.

Ever since we’ve always joked at the PA Announcer in polite English prose: ‘Foul language will not be tolerated. Anybody using foul or abusive language will be expelled immediately’.
And then we’re hearing some of the stuff, and my wife goes, ‘I guess they define foul and abusive language quite differently over here.’

Editor - We call it passion ...

Jorge - Yeah, that’s for me what’s missing.

I enjoy the level of play with the Impact, but every time we’re not doing well it’s, ‘Jackson-Hamel should be playing’.

No! How many Quebec players do well on the international stage? Let’s be honest. Jackson-Hamel is not the answer for the Impact. And I like those guys, like Frederic Lord and Vincent Destouches, they’re at the game and it’s like, ‘They should put Jackson in you know, give him a little, just to be nice’.

But you know, this is pro. Remi Garde coached at Lyon, at Aston Villa, and played at Arsenal and Lyon, you don’t be nice to a guy, just to be nice, so there’s that homer feeling a little bit, but I still think the experience is enjoyable.