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‘I shouldn’t have went’: John Herdman says sister’s death had him not ready to coach Canada at World Cup


John Herdman, who coached Canada’s men’s team to its first World Cup appearance in 36 years, now says he wished he’d stepped down as manager before the tournament in Qatar in late 2022.

The 48-year-old Englishman told CBC Sports’ Anastasia Bucsis that he “wasn’t ready” in the wake of his sister Nicola’s suicide in May of that year, just a few months after the team had secured its berth for the tournament.

I had just lost my sister to suicide, and it really, really hurt and it was for a period of time. I’ve never been hurt like that,” Herdman says on the POV Podcast, released Tuesday. “I’d always been the fixer in my family, and I couldn’t fix it. So coming out with World Cup qualification, it was like the highest high, then down to the worst experience that I had in my life.

“I had a decision to make in June [2022] and I went against my instinct … I shouldn’t have went.”

WATCH: John Herdman on why he feels he should have not coached at World Cup:

‘I shouldn’t have went’: John Herdman says sister’s death had him not ready to coach Canada at World Cup

On the new episode of Player’s Own Voice podcast, coach John Herdman opens up to host Anastasia Bucsis about his regrets surrounding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Herdman’s revelation stands in stark contrast with the celebrations that followed the team’s qualification for the World Cup in March 2022, where it finished first in the CONCACAF standings after wins over higher-ranked teams like the United States and Mexico. 

But the euphoria quickly gave way to discord after Canada Soccer, which oversees the national team, was forced to cancel two tune-up friendlies in the months that followed.

That June, a scheduled game against Iran was called off following protests from families of Canadians killed in a Ukranian plane shot down by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in 2020. 

Panama was then added as a replacement opponent, but that game was cancelled just hours before it was to begin when the Canadian players refused to participate because of a contract dispute with Canada Soccer over compensation.

WATCH: Full interview with John Herdman on POV Podcast:

John Herdman on life, his new head coach job, and regrets about the 2022 World Cup

Coach John Herdman has a pattern of joining organizations and helping them become better versions of themselves. Anastasia Bucsis, host of Player’s Own Voice podcast, spoke to him about his life, coaching style and things he would have done differently leading up to the 2022 World Cup.

Herdman says it all seemed to foretell the performance of the team in Qatar, where it lost all three of its games in the group stage and failed to advance.

“I knew Canada, from an organizational perspective, we weren’t ready. We weren’t ready,” Herdman says. “And the players? You know, when you see what happened in June and the ‘me’, had already shifted. The ‘we’ had gone to ‘me’.”

For Herdman, it all seemed to extinguish his competitive fire.

“I didn’t need it,” he says of the World Cup. “I felt my job was done, on the qualification. I did not need that World Cup. I don’t know if I wanted it either.”

Eight months after the tournament, in August, Herdman stepped down as national team manager to coach Toronto FC of Major League Soccer. He says he’s happy with the move.

“This is a dream to work for a proper organization that’s got great resources and can elevate your performance, your staff’s performance, but more importantly, to be on the grass every day teaching, which is what I love to do.

Transcripts of Player’s Own Voice Podcasts are available for a hard-of-hearing audience. To listen to John Herdman, Nick Wammes & Sarah Orban, Luke Prokop, Laurence St-Germain, Hilary Knight or any of the guests from earlier seasons, go to CBC Listen or wherever else you get your podcasts.

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