Consett's Canada World Cup coach John Herdman believes World Cup 'tainted' by Qatar involvement

John Herdman admits he still cannot quite believe the man who taught small kids to play football in Consett in County Durham, is now leading Canada at their first World Cup finals since 1986. Credit: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press/PA Images

The head coach of the Canadian National football team said he believes the World Cup has been "tainted" because of the decision to play the tournament in Qatar.

John Herdman, who hails from Consett in County Durham, says he fully understands the "strong concerns" around the decision by FIFA to award Qatar the opportunity to host the 2022 World Cup, but added he hopes the tournament can be a "learning experience" for all nations involved in the tournament.

He said: "I mean, for me, a decision was made over a decade ago, that was not necessarily a popular decision. I think people knew that these matters were going to be raised and were going to ultimately taint the World Cup in some way. And I think the questions have to be asked. There's no doubt the questions need to be asked.

"Having been here I see a genuine opportunity for people who have strong opinions and values and have strong traditions, to be able to share those values and traditions and for learning to appear on both sides.

"I think that's what is going to happen. Then through the course of this experience, I think there are a lot of positives that can come from this experience.

"There are elements of things that have happened through this World Cup that should never happen again and our gift is that we can learn and evolve. We have a World Cup in 2026 and I know Canada will be putting elements like human rights and the other aspects at our forefront to make sure that these mistakes are never made again."

Canada head coach John Herdman during training ahead of the World Cup in Doha, Qatar. Credit: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press/PA Images

It comes after FIFA president Gianni Infantino hit back at criticism of Qatar from Europe on the eve of the 2022 World Cup.

The game’s global governing body has been attacked for its decision to hold the finals in the Middle Eastern nation, where the treatment of migrant workers and the rights of LGBTQ+ people have been thrust into the spotlight.

Despite the controversy which has surrounded the build-up to the tournament, Herdman is relishing the opportunity to manage Canada at their first World Cup finals since 1986.

Canada face Belgium in their opening group game on Wednesday 23 November.

He said: "I think in the build-up there was a lot of nerves because you had to go through so much scouting of your opponents and the more you look at them you start to realise that there are some real giants that we're going to have to meet. That can be a little bit scary when you see in the form that De Bruyne's in.

"I think that opener against Belgium is just all opportunity for Canada. I think when you look at their track record and World Cups and if you were to say which five teams could probably win it, Belgium would be in the top five.

"So for us, it's just an opportunity to go out and I think upset the form book and do something different, you know, hopefully, be that team that creates a surprise. That's the motivation for our players.

"I've been getting some nice messages from back home, but I think at the same time I think people consider themselves English first. They've got their own World Cup to focus on and I hope they can focus on it right through to the finals.

"I'll forgive anyone that's not even thinking about Canada, but hopefully, if they do have a second team they can keep an eye out for the red and white of Canada."

John Herdman speaks to the media during a press conference ahead of the World Cup in Doha, Qatar. Credit: Nathan Denette/Zuma Press/PA Images

Standing on the touchline at the Al Rayyan Stadium on Wednesday night, John admit he will be a "kid inside, living my dream", something he could never have imagined doing when he first worked as a coach at Sunderland Football Club's Academy.

He added: "I remember back then and just loving, loving that experience. I've never really planned anything in my life. I've just worked hard and brought my passion and it just seems that the universe turns and sends us in certain directions and here I am in Qatar and my bedroom just looks out over the World Cup stadium here, the final stadium. I mean, who would have thought?

"Just seeing how close it is, it is just six games away for Canada when you look at it like that. I think whether we're a big underdog or not, anything's possible."

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