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Butler: Montagliani preaches patience for Canada's future

Noel Butler, TSN.ca
10/19/2012 5:41:54 PM
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Buckle up Canada.

"Gangnam Style" instant fame and glory will not be washing up on our football shores anytime soon following our men's football team's complete evaporation in San Pedro Sula.

But don't buy your tickets for Moscow 2018 just yet because according to Canadian Soccer Association President Victor Montagliani patience and perseverance will be required for us to emerge healthier and more robust from our latest nasty bout of World Cup qualifying-itis.

That process began less than 48 hours after Tuesday's final whistle with the resignation of Stephen Hart: a football person whom Montagliani has a lot of respect and admiration for.

"Well for those that know him - and I've got to know Stephen quite well over the last five, six years - he is a hell of a football man," a highly reflective CSA President told TSN Radio shortly after announcing his acceptance of Hart's resignation.

"He's also a quality man, and a gentleman. Never whines, everything we've ever asked him to do he does. He started off at the U-17 level, was technical director. He's the type of guy who would do anything for the game, and anything for the Canadian Soccer Association. He's a warrior and unfortunately the game of football is a business and when it comes to this point sometimes decisions are inevitable," said Montagliani.

Hart has worn many hats over his lengthy time with the governing body. No other person on the football side has played a more pivotal role as the sport finally emerges into the bar room conversations and consciousness of the nation.

With that in mind, Montagliani certainly doesn't rule out a future role for Hart.

"Today is probably not the day to talk about where that is going to head," he said. "I think Stephen needs to take time off with his family. One thing we don't do well in our association and I think we need to start to and we have started to do is really taking care of our own and not losing the corporate knowledge that has been built up over the years."

"We've invested a lot of time and money into Stephen over the years. And I think it's important we find a role for him in our organization at some level at some point. Otherwise it would be a waste of our investment and a waste of somebody who has that knowledge."

Bitterly disappointed with failure to get to the Hex (the final stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying), Montagliani pointed to signs of progress this go round. "We got ourselves to the point for the first time in 15 years where we actually had our destiny in our own hands for the last game. We were out of this stage by game two the last three cycles."

"So for the first time we were on the precipice of really breaking through," he continued. "As you saw by the fan support over those three games at home, it was incredible. Before I was at the CSA and during my time at the CSA I don't think I ever felt the support this time we had from the fans. Even from the media leading up to this Honduras game."

"It was incredible and because the expectations were so high, because the support was so high. But, to obviously drop from that level hurts and there's no other way to describe it. Quite honestly if feels like a death in the family and that's the way I feel."

To conclude 2012's International calendar Montagliani didn't entirely rule out a fixture for the men on November 14th. However, with that only a very remote possibility unfortunately it will be the San Pedro Sula misadventure that bookends a sensational centenary for the CSA.

It was a year Montagliani certainly looks back fondly on.

"I think the significant milestone has been first of all the continued growth of the game at all levels," he said. "At the grassroots level obviously growing, the interest at the professional level that has been generated by the three MLS clubs, the NASL club is something I've never seen before."

"We had a fantastic centenary game against the U.S. at home where we played very well. The highlight of the centenary year was the Heroes of London and what was performed in London."

"In some regards it's probably some hollow words because at this moment in time we are all feeling the emotional shock of Tuesday," said Montagliani, indignant to CSA indifference. "That's a lot to build on. I think pulling out the old horse and beating up on the CSA is stale quite frankly."

"I remember what happened in Germany with the women's team and it was the same old headlines again. But if you notice what's happened to the women's team we got it right pretty quick and turned that ship around in 12 months."

He will hear no more of the CSA blame game. "I can tell your right now this is a different CSA. It's governed differently, it's run differently and we will turn the men's program around as well. I am certain of that."

Montagliani then provided a hint of the long and sometimes painful road that lay ahead.

"You know at the youth level there's already been some great strides exposing our players to the right environments and working together not only with our member organizations but our professional clubs to create synergies within the youth programs so that we start having players that come out of those programs that are used to playing in those environments that we experienced Tuesday."

Even pedigreed football nations do not always experience World Cup Finals qualification success.

To illustrate his point, Montagliani used Tuesday's opponent as an example.

"We just played a country - for instance - in Honduras. Now, I'm not sure how they're going to do in the Hex but they qualified for the last World Cup and they hadn't qualified [before that] since 1982. That is a country that has had some good players in the last little while and also is a football-crazy country."

"We don't have a God-given right to qualify for every World Cup. But, one of the things I think we need to push for is put ourselves in the position to qualify and there's no reason we can't qualify for the Hex every time out. Now, whether you get to the World Cup or not - we all know sometimes it's how the ball bounces."

Football may be played with your feet but like in all facets of life what plays out in your mind has a significant effect on the eventual outcome. "We need to seriously look at the psychology of playing in those areas and not just talking about it but actually putting actions to words."

As Montagliani explained the organization has very recent experience of football inferiority complex. "With respect to the women's program their barrier was completely different. They don't have to worry about playing in Central America. Their barrier was on how to play against top five countries. John took that task and obviously you saw the result."

The same will be required of the men but as Montagliani explained for this to be effective it has to trickle up from the youth ranks.

"It's the same process on the men's side but it can't just be about the senior team. That process has to start at the U-15 level so that players are comfortable in those environments and they've had five or six years' experience coming through the youth system playing in those environments."

"We've started already creating that. You could see our U-17 team that qualified for the last World Cup I've noticed they've got some tremendous results playing in Central America It's because they are used to playing in those environments. So I think that's very, very important."

We may be one of the most economically developed nations on earth but to Montagliani that bares no meaning in terms or where our football economy is at.

"I think it is realizing that FIFA rankings in football [aren't] based on having the best healthcare system in the world and the best banking system. Just because we have that doesn't mean to say we are going to be a football nation."

"The truth of the matter is we've come a long way in terms of creating that and as you can see by attendances at MLS games it's certainly coming. And if we can make the right decisions and take the right steps and some of it will be hard medicine, very tough medicine to take in terms of making sure things are done right at the grassroots level," Montagliani continued.

"I think if we do that and are patient we will be in position not just four years from now but specifically eight years from now that we are going to do things because of what we are doing not in spite of what we are doing."

Montagliani disclosed the organization had its sights firmly set on building a national football centre in the same vein of so many other countries. It would become the destination for teams not just at the senior level but for all competitive levels.

"We actually already have taken steps in looking into creating a new home for Canadian soccer in the Ottawa area where our head office is currently located. It's creating a sort of bricks and mortar around the game where you can attach something to your programs."

"Obviously it will house your office, your meeting rooms and all that but also have the opportunity to have fields where you can run your youth teams, you can run some referee development, your coaching development."

Don't think for one moment we are the only nation in the football dark ages.

As Montagliani pointed out the original Football Association only very recently themselves swung open their doors.

"England just did there new one, obviously we don't have the means to do what England did spending whatever they spent on their new facility just outside London but we can still have a quality facility that we can use to our benefit."

If the CSA's plans and aspirations for the men's game and our World Cup side come to fruition then Hart's legacy won't be compiling the best winning percentage of anyone to coach Canada but instead his noble willingness to sacrifice himself on behalf of the nation's football future.

The full conversation with CSA President, Victor Montagliani is available as a podcast at TSN.ca/Soccer.

Noel Butler

Noel Butler


Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/TheSoccerNoel and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.

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