Thursday, March 20, 2008

Stephen Hart: Canada's new technical director?

Interestingly enough, it seems Stephen Hart has been hired as the Canadian Soccer Association's new technical director, according to Sportsnet's Gerry Dobson. Surprisingly though, Dobson talks about this as if the story's already come out, but I couldn't find it reported anywhere else. Even the CSA's website has nothing on this, and still lists Technical Director as "TBD" in their staff directory. I don't dispute Dobson on this: he's one of the most connected people in Canadian soccer, and it sounds like he's already talked with Hart. If he had planned to break the news, I think he might have actually explained more about the hiring, though: at the moment, his post seems like a commentary targeted at those who already know the story. Did the CSA decide to hold off on the announcement to avoid diverting attention from tonight's crucial Canada-U.S. U-23 match for an Olympic berth, and forget to send Dobson the memo? One can only speculate. It doesn't seem that out of character for an organization with their recent struggles, though.

Hart is a good choice for the post, presuming Dobson's information is accurate. He's been involved with the CSA for 17 years, and thus is fully aware of the tremendous roles regional politics and infighting have played in the organization. He's also got considerable coaching experience, including leading the senior team on a strong run at last year's Gold Cup before their hopes were dashed by questionable officiating.

Additionally, as Dobson writes, his personality is well-suited to the job.
"I've known Stephen for a while and figure he's a guy with the right temperament for a position that would have most people pulling out their hair or chewing a finger off," he wrote. "The frustration level will be that severe. But Hart is always on an even keel, never too high, never too low," he wrote. He's a thoughtful sort who we all hope finds a way to help dig the CSA out of the hole in which they find themselves."

Hopefully, Hart will be able to navigate the murky waters of Canadian soccer and convince regional associations to buy into a national player development plan, which Canada desperately needs. A systematic way of evaluating, recruiting and nuturing talent is crucial to maintaining and building on the country's recent international successes: young players like Owen Hargreaves and Jonathan de Guzman need to be identified and supported at an early age. De Guzman left Canada for the Netherlands at 12, while Hargreaves moved to Germany when he was 16: if they had had the chance to develop their talent in Canada instead of abroad, they might be wearing our national colours now. It's good to see that we (might?) finally have a technical director: hopefully, he'll be able to continue the long, hard process of advancing Canadian soccer out of its current turmoil.

Originally posted at 3:30 P.M. ET.

Update, 6:40 P.M. So, the CSA finally got around to posting Hart's appointment on their website, and The Canadian Press picked it up (link via TSN). The CP story's quite good, actually: it features detailed interviews with Hart and acting president Dominic Maestracci. Maestracci had some interesting comments, particularly that 15 people applied for the job (six from outside Canada), which surprised me given the CSA's current infamous reputation. Also, the decision to choose Hart was apparently unanimous: that's impressive, given the frequently fractured nature of the CSA board, and is more evidence that he's the right man for the job. Also, Hart's comments are promising: it sounds like he wants to move towards a national structure for player development, but slowly enough to keep the almighty provincial associations on board.

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