Canadian soccer’s newly appointed technical director knows what he is getting into.
As assistant coach with the men’s national team, Tony Fonseca literally had a front-row seat on Canada’s humiliating exit from World Cup qualifying last month in Honduras.
The former Portuguese international has also coached Canada’s under-20, under-23, and Francophone Games teams.
Fonseca’s new job is essentially to chart the course of Canadian soccer, “in charge of setting a vision for all aspects of the game,” according to the Canadian Soccer Association.
That includes educating coaches and developing players, from pre-teens to elite players.
There have been no shortage of good intentions and blueprints in the past in the CSA, but Canadian soccer has little to show for it outside of high participation numbers and a competitive women’s side.
The 47-year-old Fonseca acknowledged there is much to do, including trying to bring together what is widely perceived to be a fractured soccer landscape.
“This is not just one layer of the problem,” he told a conference call Tuesday. “There’s many layers but definitely we want to continue to work with the provinces, with the stake-holders, the pro clubs and the academies, and definitely find the solutions needed to forward the game in Canada.”
The CSA still has to appoint a men’s national team coach in the wake of Stephen Hart’s resignation last month.
The two jobs are very different. The technical director looks down the road while the national team coach is only as good as his last result.
Early feedback on the choice of Fonseca was positive.
“Fantastic appointment,” Paul Mariner, Toronto FC’s manager and director of soccer operations, said by email from a European scouting trip.
“A good guy,” said Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi. “And having come up through the Portuguese system and being a part of Benfica, I think he has a pretty good idea of what it takes to develop players.”
“A very conscientious football mind,” said Bjorn Osieck, the outgoing executive director of the B.C. Soccer Association. “Somebody who is not afraid to point out inconvenient truths, but does it in a way not to alienate people.”
The post of technical director has been vacant since Hart left it to take over as national team coach in December 2009. Hart, who became technical director in March 2008, stepped down last month as coach in the wake of the 8-1 loss in Honduras.
The Vancouver-based Fonseca hinted that Hart could still play a role, saying it would be a shame not to use his experience.
Peter Montopoli, general secretary of the CSA, said the job of technical director was handled by committee prior to Fonseca’s appointment.
Montopoli said more than 30 people applied for the job. He declined to name the shortlist but asked about Sylvie Beliveau, he confirmed that the CSA’s long-term player development manager and former women’s coach has been considered.
“We believe as an organization that Tony has the knowledge and experience to have an immediate impact on the development of the sport in our country,” he said.
Montopoli said the job needed someone who understands the “uniqueness of the Canadian soccer culture.”
“Tony is the right man for the job,” he added.
Fonseca, a former Portuguese international who played for Benfica, stressed that the recent World Cup loss qualifying loss in Honduras — which he called “a very painful result for all of us” — should not serve as the face of Canadian soccer.
Canada was ranked 61st in the world by FIFA prior to the November rankings, expected out Wednesday.
“There’s a lot of good things that have been done in terms of the Canadian Soccer Association and soccer in general,” he said. “Obviously the problem is deeper than one result, one game.”
“But that’s not a clear indication of where we are in football,” he added, referring to the Honduras game. “It’s just a freaky result that left all of us with a very sour taste and we want to erase it as fast as possible and move forward.”
He said determining the best way to work with the pro clubs for the mutual benefit of both parties is an urgent priority. “Addressing the grassroots” is another.
There has been duplication of player development in the past, with parents of promising youngsters wondering whether to entrust their kids to local clubs or provincial teams.
Lenarduzzi, for one, believes Fonseca is on the same page as the pro clubs when it comes to developing youth.
“I’ve often said the rest of the world isn’t wrong. Pro clubs develop the players,” said Lenarduzzi, a former Canadian national team player and coach.
The infrastructure is now here with the MLS clubs, said Lenarduzzi, noting that promising players in B.C. are now funnelled through the Whitecaps age-group teams.
Collaboration is key, he added.
“I’ve said from the time we suffered the 8-1 loss, the stake-holders need to come together and not just rely on firing a coach and assuming that everything’s going to change as a result of that,” said Lenarduzzi. “The infrastructure needs an overhaul and ideally that will be one of Tony’s primary responsibilities.”
Fonseca promised to meet with major stake-holders and to develop “solutions that will make sense for Canada.”
Fonseca moved to Canada in 1999 to play for the Vancouver 86ers before starting his coaching career the next year. He became head coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2002 and was appointed the organization’s technical director in 2004.
He became a staff coach with the CSA in 2008.
“This position will give me an opportunity to give back to the country that has welcomed me and my family with open arms,” he said.