Worst-kept secret in Canadian soccer: Zambrano was on hot seat from day one By Steven Sandor Posted on January 8, 2018 24 0 624 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter CSA President Victor Montagliani and Octavio Zambrano PHOTO: MARTIN BAZYL/CANADA SOCCER For months, I’ve heard the whispers. Off the record. Throughout the echelons of Canadian soccer. And that was: That the hiring of Octavio Zambrano as the national team head coach, technical director and overseer of the country’s youth programs was a mistake. What I have been told is the die was cast on Zambrano’s future (or lack of it in Canada) before Christmas. Now, with Monday’s news that Zambrano has “departed” the program (in the words of the Canada Soccer press release) and that John Herdman will move from the women’s program to take over the men’s team, the deck has been cleared before Canada plays any meaningful games in the 2022 qualifying cycle. “I will explain at a press conference in more detail,” said Zambrano, who suggested he was pushed out because his plan ruffled the feathers of the Canadian soccer establishment. “I enjoyed every minute in this great country and the genuine support of the fans. Best wishes to the CSA, and coach Herdman.” Zambrano was charged with revamping the youth national teams and, since he took over, there hadn’t been a camp until the U-23 session that’s supposed to begin on Tuesday. Zambrano’s was job-reviewed several times despite having held the job for less than a year. For former CSA president Victor Montagliani, who wanted to have the national-team hire done and dusted before he left the post to focus on his job as the head of CONCACAF, this does tarnish his legacy somewhat. I can say this: In my time covering Canadian soccer, and this goes back to the mid ’90s, I have never had a person generate more chatter within the ranks. There were those who called to insist Zambrano was going to set the program back. Yet, because of the vindictive nature of soccer — that is, speaking out tends to get you blacklisted — a dual narrative had become the norm. There was the public face of the program, which had Zambrano show improved results in the program. But there was an undercurrent of conflict, people wondering why the youth program hadn’t been advanced, others who felt totally ignored and those who wondered who was going to pay for Zambrano’s plans. Zambrano did go on the record in a one-on-one interview with me before the Christmas holidays about a rather ambitious and expensive plan which would have seen him doing an end-around every technical director in the country. Zambrano suggested on social media that this might have contributed to the end of his term. But, he never once called on FC Edmonton to ask about players. He didn’t make contact with the San Francisco Deltas, even though the team was starting four players who had national-team experience. He didn’t communicate with other coaches in the Canadian program. In fact, for a man who claimed he wanted to take over the scouting process in Canada, there was lots of talk about the teams and players he never bothered to see. So, now Herdman makes the move to the men’s program — and Kenneth Heiner-Moller, Herdman’s assistant, will take over the women’s program. “Just sad about this one,” tweeted Canadian women’s team veteran Diana Matheson. “Wishing John nothing the best in his next challenge, but still just sad.” “He has an excellent track record with the women,” said Canadian veteran Nik Ledgerwood of the move. “I have heard nothing but good things from the women in the program about him. It will be an interesting transition, from the women’s program to the men’s program.” Jeff Paulus, who coaches FC Edmonton’s academy program that will be playing in 2018, said he’s looking forward to the change. “I think John will organize the youth program, and get it where it needs to be,” he said. “We think that we will have some players looked at who haven’t been looked at.” Herdman’s first job will be rebuilding trust with technical directors and coaches in the Canadian ranks. There is no doubt Zambrano ruffled a lot of feathers in the Canadian coaching ranks, and it will take some work to rebuild the trust lost with Zambrano at the helm. Of course, there will be a camp who will believe that Zambrano was swept aside because he wanted to make massive changes to the system, without wanting to play the political games needed to soothe those whose egos would have been bruised along the way. Obviously, left out in this spinning wheel is Marc Dos Santos, the Canadian coach who has led three separate teams to three separate North American Division-2 finals over the last three years. With word that Zambrano was on the hot seat, and Dos Santos not committing to a job, he would have been candidate 1A for the post. Dos Santos was not contacted by Canada Soccer about the job. There are strong rumours linking him to a job on an MLS staff.