NEWS
02/13/2012 04:00 EST | Updated 04/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Paul James says the tail wags the dog when it comes to Canadian soccer

TORONTO - Paul James knew he was up against it as soon as he accepted his coaching job with the Canadian Soccer Association.

Job 1 was to prepare an under-20 team for the qualifying tournament for the 1999 World Youth Championship in Nigeria. He had 12 weeks.

"Considering that no players had been scouted, selected or trained, it made the scale of the task appear overwhelming," he writes in his E-book "Cracked Open."

While the book is about his battle with addiction, "Cracked Open" also offers insight into Canadian soccer. Many of today's Canadian stars graduated from James' team.

While recognizing their talent, James details problems he had with Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman, among others.

James argues Canada's soccer leadership "all too often displays more negative political nous than it does courage."

"On a global scale, Canada is an immature, insecure and negative soccer nation," James writes. "And we are because we have an immature, insecure and negative approach from too many people. We are weak."

James says his teams were always behind in terms of talent, preparation and resources. His plan was to pick the right players, make them ultra-fit and outwork their opponents.

"As a Canadian national youth team coach you have no time and so when your players arrive to training three times a week with pot bellies you have no choice but to get them fit first and foremost — otherwise you cannot compete even at a minimal level," he writes.

Star players, coddled by families and coaches, also proved to be a problem.

"When you're coaching Canada, with limited technical resources, you gamble on players that do have technical ability but poor attitudes and approach, or immature attitudes and approach," James said in an interview.

In a country where talent is thin, such elite players hold the power, he argues.

"Absolutely. The tail has been wagging the dog ever since I've been involved in the coaching here."

But he is not pointing fingers at the Canadian Soccer Association, noting the limited funds available.

"In many ways they're behind the eight-ball."

James did manage to get his U20-team to the 2001 World Youth Championships in Argentina, where they were outscored 9-0 in three games.

James also sheds some light on Canada's attempts to get Calgary-born Owen Hargreaves into the fold. Hargreaves, said James, was "clearly hurting" from being cut a few years earlier by a Canadian youth team.

Hargreaves asked James what he could offer from a coaching perspective that he wasn't getting from Bayern Munich.

"Now that he was doing well at Bayern, he felt empowered," James writes.

"His response was an example of the lack of respect younger players in Europe had for Canadian coaches."

Hargreaves went on to star for England, although his recent career has been marked by injury.

While James says he respected former men's coach Holger Osieck, their relationship grew difficult towards the end of James' tenure. Osieck wanted James to follow his direction in player selection.

But at the end of the day, James points to Osieck and former women's coach Even Pellerud, both of whom won world championships prior to coming to Canada, as deserving better than they got.

Osieck quit after drawing fire from his players. After Pellerud resigned, some of his players decried his tactics.

"We should hold them in some kind of high regard," James said. "When players undermine coaches, it really does show that at the top level — and it's gone on with Holger, (former men's coach) Dale Mitchell, it's gone on with myself — when that happens, it's really indicative of an immature and poorly run organization at the very top."

James reveals other soccer secrets in the book.

He writes of an 1988 concussion sustained in a game for Canada against touring English side Sheffield Wednesday.

He did not go to hospital despite "dry-heaving constantly while lapsing in and out of consciousness."

"The next day, I couldn't move an inch without being sick. But being so desperate not to lose my place on the Olympic squad, over the subsequent week I hid the severity of the injury. Within 10 days I was back training, sleeping and popping Aspirin for the blinding headaches."

He eventually went to his family doctor, who syringed fluid out of his eardrums. James says he had to avoid heading the ball the next few months.

James also writes about the seedier side of soccer while playing for England's Doncaster Rovers, watching as a stripper serviced several players at the club's Christmas party.

James has been out of coaching since 2009 and has no plans to return.

"I still love soccer — from a distance now."

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"Cracked Open," $9.99 available through www.pauljamescrackedopen.ca