He’s been everything the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) needs.
Trinidad & Tobago-born Stephen Hart smiles and says all the right things when he’s presented as one of the faces of Canadian soccer as was the case last week. That’s when the national association announced BMO Financial Group as the presenting partner for its Wellness to World Cup strategy to advance the playing environment for Canadian soccer.
He played a role in shaping the initiative that is intended to define the pathway for player development across Canada.
Hart has also unhesitatingly responded to the CSA’s calls to coach the national senior side on a few occasions, the last being this year after former national player-turned-coach Dale Mitchell was fired last March with an abysmal record and a year remaining on his contract.
Hart has done everything that has been requested and it’s evident that he would like to be rewarded with a full-time job coaching the senior national side.
“It’s something I have thought about because I am not getting any younger,” Hart, 49, told Share. “It’s something that’s always in the back of my mind but I would like Canada to be successful and whatever role I could play, I am more than willing to do my best in that role until they are tired of me.
“Those sorts of decisions are not in my hand. The things that I control, I will control and, in the meantime, I will just deal with that.”
When asked if he had received offers to coach in Canada or abroad, Hart politely declined to comment.
It’s hard to understand why Hart is still saddled with the interim tag.
He took the national side to the 2007 Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Associations of Football (CONCACAF) Gold Cup tournament while Mitchell, who was appointed the men’s coach in May 2007, was charged with the responsibility of preparing the Canadian juniors for the International Soccer Federation (FIFA) World Cup in Canada in the summer of that year.
Canada played magnificently under Hart, reaching the Gold Cup semi-final before bowing out to eventual champions the United States.
The juniors, on the other hand, lacked creativity and imagination and failed to score in all three of its losses.
When Mitchell took back the reins of the senior team from Hart, Canada won just three of its 12 contests and failed to advance to the final round of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying competition. In addition, several players, including Toronto FC’s Jim Brennan and Dwayne DeRosario questioned Mitchell’s leadership.
Hart was asked again to coach the national side after Mitchell – who he worked with as an assistant coach during this period — was fired.
With just one international friendly last May in Cyprus and a few warm-up games to prepare for the Gold Cup series, Hart still managed to get the best out of his squad that included several new faces.
Canada, without veterans Brennan and DeRosario who chose to remain with Toronto FC, finished on top of its group after defeating Jamaica and El Salvador 1-0 and drawing 2-2 with Costa Rica. The national side bowed out in the quarter-finals to Honduras on a controversial 36th minute penalty.
Entering the tournament, Canada was ranked 92nd in the FIFA/Coca-Cola world ranking, below El Salvador (90), Jamaica (65), Honduras (39) and Costa Rica (30).
Owing to its success under Hart, Canada made the biggest one-month jump in the global ranking, moving up to 66th last July.
A longtime coach with Canada’s national teams, Hart signed a two-year contract as the CSA’s technical director in March 2008. One of his main responsibilities is helping to develop players under the age of 20.
“I like to teach and I like to work with young people,” he said. “That is my forte. I have been fortunate to work with young people from as young as eight to the professional level and that has given me a unique perspective. I really enjoy working with all players but, more particularly, with youths because you can see them grow.
“Quite a few of our young ones are now making it on the professional scene. I am not saying I am fully responsible for where they are, but I would like to think I passed on something and that I was one part of the layer in the cake.”
Hart honed his soccer skills in Trinidad and Tobago where he played for Texaco in the T & T Professional league and San Fernando Strikers in the local premier league. He was included in the national squad in 1980, but he chose to come to Canada later that year to further his studies at St. Mary’s University in Halifax where he was a player/coach.
He has also served as Canada’s Under-17 men’s coach, technical director for Soccer Nova Scotia and director of the Atlantic Region National Training Centre in Halifax.
Hart holds a CSA “A” license and has been an instructor in the association’s coaching development program since 1992.
His contract as technical director expires next March and it would be interesting to see if the CSA would make the right move then and name him the national men’ s coach. Based on his impressive body of work and qualifications, it’s a position he fully deserves and it would be a fitting reward for Hart who turns 50 the same month his contract ends.