There is only one John Herdman.
But in putting Herdman in charge of the men’s national team and naming assistant coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller his replacement with the women, the Canadian Soccer Association opted for continuity and the hope that the experienced Dane can continue the Canadian women’s rise.
“Well I think you cannot find a more seamless solution than this one, hopefully,” Heiner-Moller said in an interview. “Because I’ve been in the environment. I know everything — well not everything — but I know a lot about the staff. I know a lot about the players, what they’re good at and what they’re actually capable of. The potential as well.”
“With a guy like John leaving this program, there will definitely be some bumps. But I do think it will be very seamless,” he added.
Veteran midfielder Diana Matheson says the team knows Heiner-Moller and “responds well” to him.
“If we’re going to lose John and get a new coach, this is probably a best-case scenario,” she said.
Heiner-Moller also believes there is potential for considerable synergy to be had in sharing information between the men’s and women’s programs.
“I see this definitely as a great opportunity for Canada soccer as a whole,” he said.
Big shoes to fill
Heiner-Moller knows he has big shoes to fill. But the 47-year-old says it didn’t take him long to say yes.
“I know the team. I know what this team is capable of,” he said. “And I think I could take them further.
“So it was an easy decision even though I know the task is a big one.”
The Canadian women are currently ranked fifth in the world.
While he shares many of Herdman’s soccer beliefs, Heiner-Moller is cut from a different cloth than the brash Brit. The charismatic Herdman is a ball of energy and a powerful motivational speaker, Heiner-Moller more low-key and laid back.
Those differences made for a good working relationship.
“I’m not a guy that actually wants a lot of attention or needs it,” Heiner-Moller said. “I don’t mind it but I don’t need it, so it fitted me perfectly to just work in the background, working with great people like John but also the staff around the team and definitely the players.”
Small differences in style
Heiner-Moller says while there may be “small differences” in style, he expects to take the Canadian women down a similar road as the one Herdman was taking.
“If I wasn’t agreeing with what we were doing at the time, I would never come back [to the team],” he said. “All the tactics and stuff, I’m very much aligned with that.”
Having said that, Heiner-Moller said he and Herdman often had debates off the pitch while agreeing what to do on it.
“The arguments weren’t about big stuff, it was [about] details in the games,” he said.
A midfielder and forward, Heiner-Moller playing professionally for six years in Denmark before moving to Hungary where he played two seasons for Ferencvarosi, winning the league once and the Hungarian Cup twice.
He finished off his career in Denmark, retiring at 32 after a serious leg and ankle injury.
He then moved into coaching, first with under-17 and under-19 men’s teams before taking charge of the Brondby IF women’s squad.
After a year, he left coaching to pursue his psychology studies. He also worked in a sports school. But he was drawn back six months later when the Danish federation asked him to take over the national women’s team. He succeeded Peter Bonde, who left to become an assistant coach with the Danish men’s team.
Heiner-Moller coached the Danish women from 2006 to 2013, taking them to the 2007 World Cup. His last match in charge was at Euro 2013 when the Danes lost in the semifinals via penalty shootout to a Norwegian team led by former Canada coach Even Pellerud.
“We definitely should have won,” he said with a wry smile.
After stepping down as coach, Heiner-Moller took a job with the Danish equivalent to Own The Podium, as a high-performance manager tasked with helping the country’s coaches get better. It gave Heiner-Moller an insight into all sorts of sports.
His connection with Herdman came from Herdman’s days coaching New Zealand — “We beat them twice,” Heiner-Moller noted mischievously.
And after Herdman became Canada coach, he asked Heiner-Moller to join his staff for the 2015 World Cup. The Dane declined, reluctant to leave his high-performance role.
But when Herdman tried again a year later, Heiner-Moller was open to the idea. He had done some TV commentary in the tournament and could see the potential in the Canadian team.
He got a leave from his job to help Herdman at the Olympics and then, with the blessing of his wife, made the Canadian assistant coaching job permanent.
Heiner-Moller, his wife and their eight- and 10-year-old daughters used to live 20 minutes north of Copenhagen but now make Vancouver home.
“It’s more than a job for all of us,” he said. “It’s an experience being in a different culture. It’s not that different, but [it’s] definitely different.”
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CBC | Soccer News