• A former Werder Bremen and Tottenham Hotspur full-back, Paul Stalteri is Canada’s U-17 coach
  • Canada are one of 12 teams preparing for the 2017 CONCACAF U-17 Championship in Panama
  • The competition will qualify four teams for the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017

Former players passing on their wisdom is an invaluable part of educating the next generation of footballers looking to make it to the top. With that in mind, following a decorated playing career in Europe, Canada’s U-17 coach Paul Stalteri makes a convincing mentor for his aspiring charges.

As a full-back, Stalteri helped Werder Bremen to a Bundesliga and German Cup double in the 2003/04 season before moving to the English Premier League for a spell with Tottenham Hotspur. As a Canadian international, he sits second on his country’s all-time appearance list with 84 caps and won the 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup title with the Canucks.

Such a level of experience is rare among Canadian players, which makes Stalteri’s knowledge of the game a real asset to the youngsters in his U-17 squad. “It’s been a great experience so far after finishing my career,” the 39-year-old said in an interview with FIFA.com. “Having been involved with the program from U-15 has given me a good grasp on this current group, having seen them all at 14 and 15 years old. I don’t think we’ve missed any player across the country in that process, so it’s been very good.”

Stalteri’s work is about to be put to the test, as Canada will be in Panama this weekend for the 2017 CONCACAF U-17 Championship. At stake in the competition, which takes place from 21 April to 7 May, is qualification for the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017.

“First and foremost, the youth [national team] programs are there for developing players and helping them into that situation of becoming a professional and members of the [Canadian] senior men’s national team,” he said. “With that, playing games at the highest level and getting the most experience you can in a CONCACAF and international environment is important. There’s no doubt we want to go down to Panama and be successful and qualify for the [U-17] World Cup.”

It’s been a great experience so far after finishing my career.

Canada U-17 coach Paul Stalteri

Road to India
Canada are one of 12 teams eyeing CONCACAF’s four qualifying spots for India 2017, being split into three initial groups at Panama 2017. The top two sides from each will advance to the Classification Stage, with the leading pairs from two final groups qualifying for this year’s U-17 World Cup.

The draw has already laid out an interesting combination of match-ups. In Group A, the hosts will face central American rivals Honduras and Caribbean opposition in the form of Curacao and Haiti. “We played against Panama in Panama and they’re obviously very good, they’re very athletic,” Stalteri said. “Their program has come on leaps and bounds in the last five to ten years and you just have to look no further than their senior team to know how difficult of an opponent they are. Having watched Haiti, they look very organised and look like they have been playing together for quite a long time.”

The big challenge for Stalteri’s Canadian side in Group B will be Costa Rica, though Cuba and Suriname are sure to offer stiff competition as well. “Everyone will look at Costa Rica as the biggest opposition in terms of its name, but then you have Cuba as well, who got to the finals of the Caribbean qualifiers,” he said. “They will be organised and difficult for us.”

Group C is sure to attract plenty of interest, with two-time defending champions Mexico drawn with arch-rivals USA, central American side El Salvador and Jamaica from the Caribbean. “We played three of those four teams in recent international friendlies, and I’m sure that I’m not throwing any surprises out there by saying the US and Mexico are probably the clear favourites,” Stalteri said. “They put a lot of resources into those two teams and I would imagine in my mind that they would come through that group, but the games have to be played and you just never know what can happen in that kind of a group.”