John Herdman’s journey to lead Canada to a first World Cup since 1984 began with his part-time job at Sunderland Academy.
The 46-year-old steered the Reds to Qatar after a 4-0 win over Jamaica where he will be the only other England boss to join Gareth Southgate at the tournament.
It’s a remarkable journey for Herdman, who like Jose Mourinho, is a former teacher before entering the professional game.
Herdman’s innovative techniques while supporting physical education at a school in his home town of Consett, County Durham spread throughout the region.
This led to him combining his job with part-time coaching at Sunderland where he not only worked with a very young Jordan Henderson but was also warned not to expect to mix him up with the best.
He told the Newcastle Chronicle: “I had a great time at Sunderland; it was Peter Reid’s time and there was a great group of people but I soon realized there was a mentality in England that if you hadn’t played at the highest level you hadn’t no chance.
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“It was before the era of Jose Mourinho or Rafa Benitez, the guys who paved the way for the more academic coach.
“There weren’t many opportunities to work with anyone other than the younger players if, like me, you were going a different route.
“I will never forget that there was a former England player, who was in the England youth training system at the time, and I was coaching his son at Sunderland.
” I will never forget him. He stopped me and said, ‘Look John, you’re a really good teacher-coach. I wish I had the teaching skills you had, but the one thing you’ll never have is that experience of standing in a field in front of 60,000 people.
“And he said, ‘That’s why you’ll never get to the top level.’
“It’s still stuck in the back of my mind. My God, I want to prove you wrong. I won’t name names, but it always stuck in my mind.
Two decades ago, Herdman decided to accept a job offer in New Zealand where he was eventually made manager of their women’s team.
Under her leadership, New Zealand women were guided to the World Cup in 2007 and 2011 as well as the 2008 Olympics.
Herdman’s path to success came from his desire to expand his knowledge as a coach at every opportunity – from former All Black Lester Routledge to even hanging out with Billy Beane to discuss his Moneyball concept.
He told The Times: “I remember my wife saying, ‘How you didn’t die in those early years.
“I was driving from Invercargill to Dunedin for high performance training sessions that lasted 3.5 hours on a country road, this is Lord of the Rings country, through Hobbiton and then back.
“Several times I fell asleep at the wheel. I called Claire one evening on my way back and told her: “The sky has turned green, I think I see things”. I must be losing my mind with fatigue”. She said, ‘It’s okay, it’s the Northern Lights.’ »
Herdman took over as Canada men’s boss in 2018 after a successful six-year reign at the helm of the country’s women’s team which included Olympic bronze medals at London 2012 and Rio 2016.
On the road to Qatar, Canada currently top their CONCACAF group ahead of the United States and Mexico with just one loss in 13 games.
Herdman has managed to gel the likes of Bayern Munich superstar Alphonso Davies and Arsenal target Jonathan David with lesser-heralded talents such as Reading’s Junior Hoilett and second-tier German star Scott Kennedy.
Speaking after their place was confirmed with a win against Jamaica, he said: “We have just qualified for the World Cup, they are a legitimate football country.
“When I took over and said, ‘We’re going to qualify for the World Cup’, I don’t think they believed us.
“I’m happy for them because all these fans have waited and waited and waited, and hung on to us – and here we go.
“I think this country never believed in us because we gave them nothing to believe in. They believe now.
“Now is the time for everyone to support football and unite because we can be a power.”
Canada will also be strongly tipped to improve on their last appearance at the World Cup in Mexico 1986, where they finished last without scoring.
And another impressive performance under Herdman’s tutelage could help him fulfill his long-term ambition of returning to Newcastle’s boyhood.
He said: “Of course I had this dream of one day running the club at St James’ Park towards Local Hero. What football coach born in the North East and not a fan of Sunderland does not dream of?
“It’s always on your mind, but as a manager you just have to win your next game. It’s all you can think about! It’s how we live and how we rolls, unfortunately.
In the meantime, Herdman has more pressing concerns, adding to The Times: “(Let’s see) see if I can get Canada into Wembley!
“I’m trying to see if I can get a friendly match with Gareth Southgate.”
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