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CSA tabs Tony Fonseca as technical director: will he break from the tired old mould?

Tony Fonseca (centre) holds back Randy Edwini-Bonsu during a 2012 Olympic qualifying match.The success of the Canadian Soccer Association's decision Tuesday to tab Tony Fonseca as technical director will largely depend on how Fonseca approaches the job. On one hand, Fonseca is a long-time CSA insider; despite being born in Portugal and having his professional career start there, he's been around Canadian soccer for over a decade, serving as a player-coach with the old A-League's Vancouver 86ers from 1999-2001, then serving just as the coach for that team (renamed the Whitecaps in 2001) from 2002-2004, then working with a variety of Canadian national teams, including the U-20 and U-23 teams as well as the senior team. Thus, there are some legitimate concerns that he may continue some of the disastrous practices that have hurt soccer in this country. However, if Fonseca is committed to meaningful change, his experience with Canadian soccer at all levels could serve him well, as he should have a good idea of what's worked and what hasn't. If Fonseca opts for the status quo, or if he can't work with whoever's chosen as head coach, this move will fail and the CSA will be rightly upbraided for not fixing Canadian soccer's problems: however, if he's open to significant change and can use his background and experience to get the different levels working together to implement that change, this could be a great move.

The debate over a technical director is a little different than the debate over the next head coach. For the head coach's role, the Canadian candidates are limited enough that it may well be worth hiring someone with a different passport; whoever does take it has to be capable of maximizing the existing talent, convincing the best Canadian players out there it's worth wearing the red and white and working with youth soccer, professional clubs and the various national youth teams to develop talent, and there aren't a lot of Canadian coaches who look capable of doing all of that right now, while there are plenty of intruiging options who hail from elsewhere. However, it makes more sense to go with a relative insider like Fonseca in the technical director's role; a lot of the technical director's role involves getting the various provincial and youth sides working together, something that's always been an issue in Canada, and having someone familiar with the political interests and entrenched positions here may not be a bad idea. (It also wouldn't be a bad idea for Fonseca and the CSA to bring former technical director and former national head coach Stephen Hart back in some sort of role; although the failure in Honduras proved Hart couldn't go on as head coach, he still has valuable experience he could offer, and he did a solid job when working on the technical side.)

If Fonseca's insider experience means he's going to stick with what's been tried and failed, this won't work. Dramatic changes are needed, including increasing the focus on skill development and on-ball play at younger levels, reducing the focus on wins and losses at those levels and getting coaches and program officials across the country to work together to maximize Canadian success at the senior level instead of growing their individual fiefdoms. However, Fonseca might just have the right mix of qualifications to do this; his Portuguese background and his time at superclub Benfica may have shown him how succesful countries and clubs develop talent, and his experience with the Canadian environment could help him find ways to persuade coaches and officials at all levels to change.

A lot's going to depend on who's eventually picked as the head coach, though. The precise technical director/head coach setup at the national soccer level has its own quirks, but there are some similarities to the general manager/head coach setup seen in, say, hockey or football. Unlike GMs in those sports, the technical director doesn't usually pick players for the national team, though; he's more responsible for creating a system that will churn out a solid crop of players, which the head coach can then choose from. As with the GM/coach relationship in those other sports, though, it's crucial for the technical director and the national coach to be on the same page; it won't help if the coach wants to play a certain way and the technical director's trying to encourage development that goes against that. It's going to be interesting to see if having a technical director in place discourages some coaching candidates, too; if it keeps away an otherwise-ideal candidate, Fonseca should be seen as expendable and jettisoned in favour of that coach's candidate. He could prove to be a capable technical director and could work well with whoever's chosen as coach, but the most important thing for Canadian soccer at the moment is getting the head-coaching hire right. If having Fonseca in place doesn't interfere, great; give him time to work, and if he starts making the necessary changes, fantastic. If Fonseca maintains the status quo in this job and if his presence keeps top coaches away, though, then the CSA will continue to have major problems.

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