While no slouch as a motivational speaker himself, John Herdman looked for a different voice ahead of the Canadian men’s return to the World Cup after a 36-year absence.
Which explains why former astronaut Chris Hadfield, wearing a Canadian team jacket, was standing shoulder to shoulder with the Canada coach belting out “O Canada” before kickoff at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on Wednesday night.
Herdman invited Hadfield to speak to the team ahead of the game against second-ranked Belgium.
“That was a special moment for all of us,” Canada captain Atiba Hutchinson said Thursday. “Just basically him taking us through what it took for him to be in the right mind frame to go and do what he did. Everything he spoke about was exactly what we were going through, so we could relate to it so much.
“I don’t think there’s any better person that could have been in that room (Wednesday) to get us prepared for that game … Amazing. Just to hear the journey that he had gone though was really cool.”
The 63-year-old Hatfield is a renaissance man — the first Canadian to walk in space and command the International Space Station. He is also an engineer, pilot, adjunct professor, author, musician and TV host.
Hadfield’s resume includes the Order of Canada, Meritorious Service Cross and NASA Exceptional Service Medal. He is also a member of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.
Herdman said he met Hadfield in 2013, with both being part of the same speakers’ bureau.
“I was told ‘You’ve got to listen to this guy because he’s the best in the business,’” Herdman said. “And I thought I was at least a half-decent motivational speaker and then I watch him onstage playing a guitar and singing. Man, he can do it all.
“But he said some things that really resonated with me at the time. A few pennies dropped around his story … the nine-year-old kid that dreamed of walking in space. And then how deliberate he was to go on that journey. I wanted a pioneer in that (dressing) room, a true pioneer.”
Hadfield “represented his country in a fighter jet,” Herdman noted.
“So he knows what it means to represent his country. He knows what it means to put his body on the line, to put it all on the line. And I told the lads I want people like that in this room. But I didn’t bring him here for that. I brought him here to share his pioneering story of being that man that did what he did. And it was brilliant. He’s just an amazing, amazing human being.”
The Belgians bent but didn’t break against No. 41 Canada, which dominated the match but failed to score and eventually went down 1-0.