It turns out the Canadian Soccer Association's "major announcement" scheduled for Friday, which has been a running Twitter joke all week, actually is quite major, as Sportsnet's John Molinaro and CBC/Canadian Soccer News' Ben Rycroft confirmed Thursday a report from Spanish paper Marca (original Spanish report here) that the announcement will be the installation of 61-year-old Spaniard Benito Floro as the next full-time head coach of the men's national team. (The team is currently preparing for the CONCACAF Gold Cup championship, which starts Sunday, under interim coach Colin Miller: it seems likely he'll lead them through that tournament, which runs through July 28, then move aside in favour of Floro.) The hire of Floro is an impressive one given his resume, and it's receiving mostly-favourable reactions from Canadian soccer fans and media types on Twitter:
Great hire from @CanadaSoccerEN really looking forward to the Benito Floro era starting with the GC (Well Miller-Floro era)
— Sam Gregory (@GregorydSam) July 4, 2013
— John Doyle (@MisterJohnDoyle) July 4, 2013
— cathalkelly (@cathalkelly) July 4, 2013
Huge news! Maybe we have a chance now! RT: @CP24: Report: Former Real Madrid manager Benito Floro to coach Canadian men's soccer team.
— sabrina sibblies (@binaaa) July 4, 2013
On a lot of levels, this is an incredibly impressive hire by the CSA. Being the manager of the Canadian men's national team carries prestige within Canada, but on an international scale, it isn't the most attractive job. In the latest set of the monthly FIFA world rankings unveiled Thursday, Canada fell five spots to 88th overall. Perhaps even more concerningly, that places the Canadian team 10th in CONCACAF (the confederation of North and Central American teams): only three teams from CONCACAF currently receive automatic World Cup berths, with a fourth playing the winner of the Oceania Football Confederation (New Zealand and other island nations) qualification group for a berth. World rankings aren't everything, of course, but having nine teams rated ahead of you in a quest for three or four berths is an exceptionally daunting task, and not one that every manager would want to take on. Of course, the next World Cup qualification cycle doesn't start for years, as Canada's already been eliminated from contention for Brazil, but getting the team to the 2018 World Cup in Russia will have to be the top goal for the new coach. When you throw in the desperation and media pressure in Canada (the team hasn't qualified for a World Cup since 1986 and hasn't come especially close lately, but still bears high expectations thanks to Canada's population, resources and improving soccer infrastructure) and further specific challenges of the Canadian setup (reforms have lessened the influence of provincial federations, but they still carry a lot of power and can be obstinate at times, as we saw during the Quebec turban ban saga), the job becomes even less desirable. That's why it's a bit surprising to see a man with Floro's level of experience take it.
Floro comes with a remarkable background in Spanish football, managing such sides as Albacete, Real Madrid, Sporting de Gijón and Villarreal. He also has experience with a wide range of clubs around the globe, including Japan's Vissel Kobe, Mexico's Club de Fútbol Monterrey, Morocco's Wydad Casablanca and
Ecuador's Barcelona Sporting Club. Yes, he hasn't served as the manager of a national team before (although he almost wound up in charge of the Spanish national side in 2004), but his global experience should prove valuable. His 1999-2001 stint with Monterrey may be particularly useful as a background for how things often go in CONCACAF. As Rycroft writes, the CSA took a while to do this search (the team hasn't had a full-time head coach since Stephen Hart stepped down following October's World Cup qualification debacle, which included an 8-1 loss to Honduras), but patience may well prove to be a virtue in this case:
Perhaps the most telling quote of this whole process also came from [CSA president Victor] Montagliani when he spoke about their commitment to their cause.
"I can only speak to the time I've been at the CSA, but we've never, ever done a search and due diligence to this depth when looking for a coach. We know we need to get it right."
If Floro is what they mean by getting it right, then there is certainly a little light shining on the CSA's executives today.
Of course, this isn't guaranteed to work. Managing a national team will be a different challenge altogether for Floro, and not all international coaches have been able to adapt to how things work in Canada. For every John Herdman, there's a Carolina Morace. Still, based on what he's accomplished to date, Floro is a far more impressive hire than many imagined the CSA would be able to make. That's positive for Canadian soccer, and if he can live up to his potential, this hire may be remembered as a turning point for the struggling men's program.