Wheeldon a wanted man: Cavalry gaffer shortlisted for Canadian men's team coaching job

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Tommy Wheeldon Jr. is on the short list for the vacant Canada Soccer men’s head-coaching position, Postmedia has learned.

So what would it take for the city’s footie guru to leave Calgary and Cavalry FC?

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Perhaps only that coveted gig — and no other — as head coach of the national senior men’s squad.

“I think that’s a dream job,” said Cavalry’s gaffer, refusing to confirm that he’s on the national body’s radar to replace John Herdman, who left Canada’s top men’s team over a year ago to take on head-coaching duties with Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC.

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“I think it should be an absolute honour for anybody to be associated with leading the Canadian national team, especially with the 2026 World Cup upon us,” continued Wheeldon. “And I think the person that takes that role is going to be blessed with a generation of talent that’s coming through and a passionate Canadian supporters scene that you see expanding from coast to coast whilst also being responsible to inspire the next generation to ensure we have more of these experiences.”

Word is the short list of candidates, which definitely includes 44-year-old Wheeldon, also features fellow CPL savant Bobby Smyrniotis of Forge FC and former France superstar and ex-Montreal Impact coach Thierry Henry.

Callum Vurley of talkSPORT.com reported Tuesday that former English international and twice-Chelsea gaffer Frank Lampard has taken himself out of the running for the post after being declared “a surprise candidate for the position.” 

The national team’s current interim manager, Mauro Biello — also a previous Impact coach — is considered the front-runner and has made it clear he wants the job. Canada’s former assistant has coached the squad since Herdman’s departure and has led the country’s crew into the CONMEBOL Copa América, beginning in late June in the United States.

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All this buzz comes amid Wheeldon’s move to re-sign with Cavalry for another three seasons.

The Calgary club made that commitment ahead of the Canadian Premier League campaign, which continues Saturday for Cavalry (0-1) against host Atlético Ottawa (1-0) at TD Place (noon MT, OneSoccer, OneSoccer.ca).

Cavalry FC
Tommy Wheeldon Jr. (front) celebrates with his father, Tommy Sr. (front left), his wife Veronica (front right), family members and fans following a playoff victory over Pacific FC on ATCO Field at Spruce Meadows on Oct. 21, 2023. Photo by Jim Wells /Postmedia

“Many things in professional sports are difficult, working alongside Tommy Wheeldon Jr. is not,” said Cavalry president Ian Allison. “Having Tommy continue to lead our club was an easy decision. Tommy is part of Cavalry FC’s DNA and has been since we first started this journey in 2018. 

“His success on the pitch is obvious,” continued Allison. “He has recruited, mentored and coached more than 100 players, coaches and support personnel through our system, and we are delighted that he will be doing so for at least the next three years. His belief in the game, this community, in the Canadian Premier League and in our club’s values, goals and objectives align perfectly. We are delighted he will continue to play a vital role in next chapters in Cavalry FC history.”

As is Wheeldon if ‘a dream job’ doesn’t materialize.

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And those are few and far between, he says.

Not even a possible appointment with hometown Everton F.C. of the English Premier League would likely take him away from Calgary.

“It would take a lot to leave,” admitted Wheeldon. “I feel connected to the supporters. I’ve watched the Footsoldiers grow exponentially, along with the relationships I have to many of the people in this great city. I feel connected to the vision of our (Spruce Meadows) ownership — Linda Southern-Heathcott, in particular, and Ian Allison — who do so much for our community and beyond. I feel connected to the players whose opportunities we’ve given and seen the likes of Sergio Camargo and Marco Carducci still here, too, as founding players and guys like Charlie Trafford, Willy Akio and Brad Kamdem return home to Calgary to be a part of this journey. I think that’s what you’re always trying to do is give opportunities to players, and we’ve seen that from your Mo Farsis, Victor Loturis, Aribim Pepples, Dominick Zators, Joel Watermans …

“I’ve seen Leon Hapgood go on and move on to be the assistant coach at New York City, after having helped me build this club, to Nick Ledgerwood — my first-ever signing who is now our assistant coach. And Jay Wheeldon, my brother, also played for us and now coaches with me. Mason Trafford, Oliver Minatel, Tofa Fakunle are all guys that have worn the red of our shirt and are now operating to help grow the club. 

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“I think that’s what makes this club so cool is the belief in paying it forward, so that you know once we blazed the trail, supporters have something in 10, 15, 20 years for their kids and their grandkids. And I think that’s our mission is to make sure we’re sustainable, make sure we’re successful and make sure we’re here to stay.”

It’s a trail he started with a vision a few decades back, after trying to make it as a professional player with the Calgary Storm — coached by his father, Tommy Wheeldon Jr.

The genesis of Cavalry came with help along the way from the likes of Hapgood, Danny Hay and Mike Mikuska, who helped build the pro-am arm of Calgary Foothills FC to compete in the USL PDL back in 2015, which caught the attention of the Southerns — the founding family of Spruce Meadows Sports & Entertainment, the club’s owner.

And from it has sprung an entity that fills Wheeldon with pride.

“Yeah … I’m honoured to be able to represent this football club and this city,” added Wheeldon. “I’ve got a great affection for the city of Calgary and the surrounding areas, because I’ve spent half my life here. Came in 2002 to give it a crack at playing some professional soccer on this side of the world and fell in love with the place and the people. My wife, Veronica, and kids Beaux, Tatum and Jax are here from Calgary, and Calgary is my home and where my heart is.

“It’s such a great adventure that we’re on now. I’m thankful to have an ownership group like that Southern family that believe in their community and making a difference not only just nationally but globally, and they’re easy things to align with. 

“And for such a short history, we’ve done so well. But we’ve also got a lot yet to strive for, and that’s what keeps me hungry and, hence, why I’ve penned another deal for three more years.”

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