Canada is on the attack in world football. Its formidable women’s team has won entry to the past seven FIFA World Cup tournaments. This month Canada will begin play in its first Men’s World Cup since 1986. Four years from now Vancouver will be hosting FIFA Men’s World Cup matches. If that event provides hometown heroes to cheer for, don’t be surprised if some credit goes to Amar Talic. He is the current coach and director of North Vancouver’s European Football School, founded in 1999 by his father Saibo.
On the eve of the World Cup, we caught up with Talic to get his thoughts on fostering a love of the game, sharpening skills, who he thinks will win the cup and more.
The Tyee: First off, who do you favour in the World Cup?
Amar Talic: Being from the former Yugoslavia, obviously Croatia. But I am very excited for Canada being there, the way they qualified, showing their skills and their dominance, so I'm definitely cheering for them all the way.
I think you still have to look at France as the dominant team. They do have some injuries but they have such a deep pool I don't think it's going to affect them too much. I liked the way England was looking last year but their qualifying since then hasn't looked great. So I am not too optimistic with England. I would love for them to do well though.
What's your feeling about the event being held in Qatar?
It had to do with one thing, unfortunately: money. There were other options for FIFA to select a host if they wanted the games in other parts of the world — Australia was a candidate. The former FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, who was in charge of the selection process, just announced that the choice of Qatar was “a mistake.” And with all the rules in place in Qatar, I wonder if their atmosphere for fans will be the same as the past World Cups. I'm sure that Qatar has gone all out to make the World Cup look glam and trying to hide everything else that's transpired underneath the rug — poor human rights for workers, and LGBTQ+ rules.
Have you considered boycotting the event?
No, I won't, as I won't let politics determine my love for the game. The new Netflix series FIFA Uncovered reveals a lot of interesting information about FIFA and the Qatar World Cup.
Tell me about the European Football School. Who can attend?
We work with players from six to 18. They come to us for technical development. So they play on their own club teams but then come to us for additional training to enhance their individual skills.
We don't have tryouts. We believe every player should have a chance to develop their skills if they wish to. Either their parents sign them up, or if they are a bit older, 15 or 16, if they hear about the academy they might reach out to us with the support of their parents, they might tag along with friends. We will welcome anybody to join the program.
Do you have a mix of boys and girls at the school?
There's a mix. For our summer camps and spring break camps and other training sessions, we do mix the girls and boys together.
I am also technical director of the North Shore Girls Soccer Club. It's the biggest girls club in Canada, with over 2,300 girls from five to 18. They play in competitions in the BC Youth Coastal Soccer League. In the last 10 years professional soccer for women has really blossomed, especially with the FIFA regulations changes — they've sanctioned teams like Barcelona and Arsenal to put money into their female programs. That's allowed women to get more storytelling, more TV, not just the men taking all the glamour. We still don't have a women's professional league in Canada but I feel that could take shape in the next five or 10 years, which would be big.
What skills do you focus on?
We focus on dribbling, shooting, passing, receiving — the technical elements that a player needs at any level of soccer. If they're younger we want to focus on learning to control the ball, a lot of one-to-one ratio, which is one player, one ball, so they're learning to control the ball.
Once they get comfortable controlling the ball, then they can start to control the play. Playing three against three, four against four, it gives the players a lot of chances to touch the ball in a smaller setting so they can get comfortable.
We teach the technical aspects, tactical, which means understanding the game, so players understand different movements, how they can open up, shape, formation, how to react when they're defending or attacking.
We try to work on speed, agility, co-ordination, balance. Players like Canada's Jonathan Davies really do have the speed element which is becoming a big factor in soccer. Soccer is a sport where you use your whole body.
I think sometimes a certain approach can ruin the kids' favourite activity — when it becomes too regulated. You still want kids to be creative. With six- or seven-year-olds you don't want to stop them every minute because they're out of position. That's natural. You want to keep players involved in the game so they enjoy the game and keep playing soccer.
There are also field trips, right?
Prior to COVID we did over 23 tours across the U.S. and Europe, playing against high-level teams, first and second division teams, from Sweden all the way down to Spain. In the U.S. it's been mostly California and Arizona for tournaments. Sixteen to 20 players might go on these trips or sometimes we might go with two groups, a U-13 group and a U-14 group (under 13 and under 14) of say 30 players, with some players crossing over. For Europe it's usually between 12 and 14 days, two or three countries. Last one I was on was to Germany, Holland and Belgium. They are cultural experiences as well. And we try to take in some professional games, and see some training facilities as we did with Ajax in Holland.
In March 2020 we were planning a spring break trip to Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. We had 12 or 13 games lined up and 34 boys from across B.C., some from Kamloops, Salmon Arm and Williams Lake. The day before, we had to cancel. What we're planning now is a California tour with a U-13/14 group. That group might go to Europe in 2025.
Who are some of your most notable graduates?
We've had some players go to trials in Europe and play there. Daniel Fernandes is a Vancouver kid my dad coached in the early 2000s. He went to Portugal — his background is Portuguese — he played with Cristiano Ronaldo on the Portuguese national team in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He was a goalkeeper and didn't get any playing time but he was on the World Cup team. That's a pretty high achievement for a Vancouver kid.
Will Canada’s making and then hosting the FIFA Men’s World Cup be good for local soccer?
I think so. I definitely think the game has expanded here. It's a game for everyone. With the World Cup coming here in four years I think that will lead to an increase in players playing the game. It will be a great leap for soccer, since Canada will automatically be placed in the 2026 World Cup. The best is yet to come.
This article is part of The Tyee's 'Day in the Life' occasional series about people's jobs and what they find stressful and joyful about their work. Read the complete series.
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