When it was announced that John Herdman would be leaving his position as the head coach of the Canadian Women’s National Team to head the Canadian Men’s Team the soccer media world erupted. ‘How could he do that?, Was the team aware?, Does that man have any loyalty?’ were just a few of the shouts that could be heard throughout social media. But this article has nothing to do with any of those things. In fact, I could care less about the kind of man John Herdman is and the effects that his leaving will have on the CanWNT. Mainly, because I believe that the Canadian Women will continue to be an insanely talented and strong team without Herdman. But also because Herdman going from the women’s game to the men’s says something much bigger about the beautiful game:
Men’s soccer and women’s soccer have a lot more in common than the fans and media are willing to acknowledge.
I never realized how segregated the WoSo and BroSo fan bases were until I started writing for Backline Soccer. I am definitely in the minority at Backline as someone who watches both women’s and men’s soccer. Compile that with the fact that I watch the leagues both here and abroad, and that dwindles the group down even more.
And that is okay. There is nothing wrong with only watching women’s soccer or only watching men’s soccer. And there is nothing wrong with only watching a single league or watching soccer within the bounds of a single country. There is no right way to be a fan.
But the Herdman move lends to the idea that things can be learned between the two sides of the sport – that coaching and playing tactics can translate between the men’s and women’s game. It also begins to change the narrative from always saying that the women could learn a lot from the way the men play, to the narrative that the men could use some of the amazing resources and skills that the women have developed. They can discover and teach and share with each other – the monopoly on the evolution of the game is no longer a one-way street. It is a thriving metropolis with streets and highways, a metro system, and a railroad. Things can be learned and understood from both sides and globally.
I know that this is an unfavorable opinion. In fact, many of you reading this will vehemently disagree with me, and I accept that. But the thing that no one can deny is that although soccer is a game that is always evolving, the basic techniques and philosophies will remain, no matter what gender or nationality of the player is.
So what is the harm in reaching across the aisle and seeing what the other side has going on? What is wrong with experimenting with a tactic that worked for a men’s club in another league in another country? What is wrong with saying the same thing with regards to the women’s game?
Soccer shouldn’t be consumed in a vacuum. There is so much that can be learned from not only other leagues, and other countries, but also from the other side of the game – the men’s or the women’s, depending on where your allegiances lie.
And I will take the argument a little bit further and say it would be a detriment to not be aware of what is happening on the other side of the sport, or in other leagues, and in other countries. Look at what is happening in Columbus, Ohio currently. Do we honestly believe that the NWSL is in a secure enough place to not have that happen to one of their clubs? What about the debacle of the USMNT not advancing to the World Cup. Could the men’s side have maybe taken a note from the women’s?
And if we only watch soccer that is played here in America we could lose on so much as well. Like, what makes Olympique Lyonnais so insanely well put together on the pitch, why is Fran Kirby so dominant in the WSL, or how was Norway able to make it possible to pay both the men and the women’s players the same salary? All of those things should be relevant to the women’s game in America. They are all things to take note of and evaluate. Because if they aren’t, then we fall behind in the evolution of the game. So if we are questioning why Morgan Brian went to France, or why Jessie Fleming is looking at playing in Europe over the NWSL, then we also have to ask the question of what it is that we could possibly be lacking.
And the only way to know what we are lacking is to look around us at what is happening in the game from a global perspective. From the perspective that we can learn something from all aspects of the game and from all leagues, clubs, and sides of it. The Canadian Men’s National Team did this when they tapped John Herdman to come and coach for them. They could have chosen a men’s coach from anywhere in the world. But instead they looked to the man who took the No. 12 ranked Canadian Women’s National Team to No. 5, and who lead that team to two Olympic Bronze Medals and a World Cup Quarterfinal.
What will he do with the No. 94 Canadian Men? Only time will tell. But his performance with the Canadian Women made the men’s side take notice and recognize that they could use someone like Herdman. It doesn’t matter that he coached on the women’s side. What mattered was that he knew how to coach the game as a whole. It wasn’t about sides.
Like I said at the beginning of this article, there is nothing wrong with only following one team or one league or one side of the game. In fact, it is the norm. There is no right way to be a fan and no right way for the media to cover the sport. But there should be an acknowledgment that the game does not simply happen in one place, or one country, or only on the men’s or women’s side. Soccer is the world’s game. And to discredit any portion of it is to discredit the game as a whole. Because this game does not live in a vacuum – it grows, it spreads, it evolves. And if we only pay attention to one small piece of that game, then we lose sight of everything that it stands for. It is a sport for anyone, everyone, anyplace, and everyplace.