Published: August 28, 2:49 p.m. ET
Updated: August 28, 5:18 p.m. ET
There it is. The worst-kept secret in Canadian soccer is official.
Canada Soccer and Toronto FC each confirmed on Monday afternoon that John Herdman has left his role as Canadian men’s national team head coach to become TFC’s new boss.
TFC have lured Herdman away from his CanMNT role and have hired the Englishman on a multi-year deal, officially beginning on October 1. Interim head coach Terry Dunfield will continue in his role until then, seemingly leaving Herdman to take charge of the final three games of one of the club’s worst-ever seasons.
In an official Canada Soccer statement, Herdman said he is “grateful for the incredible opportunity to have represented Canada for the past 12 years, for the moments I’ve been able to share with the players, the staff, and the supporters.”
In TFC’s own statement, he said that “personally, it’s the right time for me to step into a new challenge in my career, and the structure of a club environment is a context I’ve aspired to operate in.
“Having access to connect and collaborate with the staff and players daily allows for a different depth of development and connection, both on and off the pitch. To continue my coaching journey in a Canadian city that I know well, playing at BMO Field – a stadium where I’ve experienced some of my favourite sporting moments, with incredible fans – is quite amazing.”
Whatever you think of Herdman’s credentials, it’s a huge move from Manning and TFC’s new general manager Jason Hernandez, a big-name hire for a club that certainly isn’t afraid to go big.
Herdman has been employed by Canada Soccer as a head coach for 12 years, since being appointed as CanWNT boss in 2011. With the women’s team, he won two Olympic bronze medals before switching to the men’s role and guiding CanMNT to their first World Cup qualification since 1986. Canada Soccer president Charmaine Crooks called him “the most successful head coach in the history of Canada Soccer.”
Herdman had a contract with Canada Soccer until after the 2026 World Cup, which Canada is co-hosting.
However, The Athletic’s Josh Kloke cites multiple sources who stated that Canada Soccer’s financial and political instability and an increasingly fractured dressing room within the CanMNT have contributed to him taking the TFC job. Herdman and his reps reached out to the club about the vacant head coaching position, not vice versa.
Many observers will likely consider Herdman to be a gamble for TFC given that he has never led a club team as a manager in his career. Still, though, he has been chosen ahead of rival candidates reportedly including Forge FC head coach and technical director Bobby Smyrniotis, D.C. United assistant and former Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson, and ex-Queen’s Park Rangers manager Mark Warburton.
Toronto have been without a fixed head coach since Bob Bradley left the role on June 26. Dunfield has been keeping the seat warm, although his time in charge has, frankly, met with no success whatsoever on the pitch.
Kloke had previously reported that Manning wants whoever takes the job to conduct “a full rebuild” of the team’s playing staff, and TFC certainly do need someone to hit the reset button and rebuild with the full support of MLSE. Herdman has been selected to be that guy, with Manning and MLS likely attracted by his success with CanMNT, his brand-name value, and his deep knowledge of Canadian soccer.
In TFC’s statement, Manning called Herdman “more than a great coach; a great leader and a culture builder.”
“I’ve had a great relationship with John over the years and have always been impressed with his ability to get the most out of his teams,” added Manning. “We look forward to John having the same positive impact with TFC as he has had with Canada Soccer.”
Herdman, for his part, thanked Manning “for trusting me with this project.”
“There’s work to be done, and we recognize that transformational change takes time. We understand what it will take to make a difference, and I am committed to getting this city and club where it belongs.”
As for Canada, there is no apparent suggestion yet as to who may be Herdman’s long-term replacement. Mauro Biello, who has been an assistant coach with CanMNT since 2018, will take interim charge. Herdman is taking the vast majority of his coaching and support staff to TFC with him, including assistant coaches Simon Eaddy and Eric Tenllado, lead scout Alex Dodgshon, and head of performance Dr. Cesar Meylan.
Canada’s next match is a friendly against Japan on October 13, the only game they have scheduled for the remainder of 2023, due at least in part to what Canada Soccer interim general secretary Jason deVos called “financial constraints.” Canada’s players have stressed many times that this lack of preparation and action threatens their progress, and Herdman had not been shy in voicing his own frustrations at the association before, calling on the CSA to take steps to ensure they do not stifle Canada’s unprecedentedly talented men’s national team program.
Herdman didn’t directly mention Canada Soccer in his own statement, although he reserved some sincere words for Canada’s players.
“I’d like to thank the men’s national team players — without being part of the team, it’s difficult to understand the sacrifices, the pain, and the amount of work that has gone into achieving what has been achieved over the past five years,” added Herdman. “The level of trust and belief that we have developed over that time, and the tightness of the brotherhood that we have today is something that I will always treasure and something that I’ll miss, for sure.
“2022 was only the start of the team’s own journey and I’ll be excited to watch as the team goes on to even greater things, as individuals and as a group. As much as the past 12 years have meant to me, I know myself well and know that I’m motivated by impacting positive change and by the challenge of leading a team or an organization towards change on a significant scale. Having worked with some incredible people to impact the women’s and men’s national teams to make real progress and achieve success, it’s time to move on and let others lead the team moving forward.”
So, put simply, it’s all change, a seismic moment in the present and future of both club and national-team Canadian soccer.
Herdman will address the media on Tuesday and we’ll have full coverage on Waking The Red and Canadian Soccer Daily.
Until then, hit us with your thoughts below.