To the outsider it looked like a laboured decision, one made out of convenience and opportunism rather than patriotism.
How else to explain David (Junior) Hoilett pledging his international allegiance to Canada last week after being non-committal and cryptic about his intentions for so many years?
Hoilett, a 25-year-old native of Brampton, Ont., who plays his club soccer for Queens Park Rangers in England’s second tier, recently accepted a call-up by Canada for next week’s friendly against Ghana in Washington, D.C. The game against the African powerhouse will mark the winger’s debut for Canada, a moment that’s been a very long time in coming.
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Hoilett was once the hottest prospect in Canadian soccer, a reputation he earned while playing for Blackburn in the English Premier League. But he turned down an offer to play for Canada in 2011, explaining he wanted to focus on his club career.
That raised the ire of many within the Canadian soccer community, a frustration that was compounded by the fact he had other international options. Hoilett was eligible to play for Jamaica through his father. England was also a possibility by virtue of his time spent there. Before announcing last week his decision to represent Canada, Hoilett’s international future had been a big question mark in large part because he had been so coy about it.
“My lips are sealed right now,” Hoilett said in June 2013 while training in Toronto with TFC when asked directly if he’d made up his mind.
Two years before that, he sidestepped the question when it was put to him by the Toronto Star.
“I’m a Canadian, of course … [but] it’s nice to have options,” he said, politely refusing to comment on his international intentions.
Today, Hoilett claims that despite appearances, it was actually an “easy” decision.
“I’m Canadian and I wanted to help the national team move forward,” Hoilett told Sportsnet in a one-on-one chat on Tuesday. “I spoke to [Canadian coach Benito] Floro and you can tell he’s ambitious. I’m happy with my decision.”
He later added: “I always had Canada in mind, to play for them. It was an easy decision.”
Some Canadian soccer fans and journalists haven’t been so welcoming, though. Hoilett has seen limited action for QPR this season, only appearing in a pair of League Cup games. The timing of his decision to play for Canada raises suspicions that he’s simply putting himself in the shop window in order to engineer a move to another club.
The suggestion has also been made that he only now decided to play for Canada because England and Jamaica were no longer options. And if he “always had Canada in mind,” then why did it take him so long to commit to the Reds?
Scepticism abounds over Hoilett’s motives—not that it bothers him.
“I don’t pay it any mind. I wanted to be part of [Canada’s] World Cup run. We’ve got some important games coming up and I wanted to be a part of it. That’s the main thing and the main focus for me,” Hoilett said.
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These are exciting times for Canada. After the Ghana friendly, the Reds open play in CONCACAF fourth-round qualifying for the 2018 World Cup with an important game against Honduras in Vancouver on Nov. 13.
Even though he’s yet to play for Canada, Hoilett explained he’s followed the team closely this year, especially its performance at the Gold Cup over the summer.
“Canada is progressing. I want to be part of the progress and help young players come through, and help the program move forward,” Hoilett offered.
“I can’t wait to play [vs. Ghana]. I’m Canadian. I grew up in Canada and I can’t wait to put on the jersey and show the fans what I can do…. I can’t wait to go out there and get the ball rolling. We have a young squad so it’s important to build some momentum going into an important game against Honduras.”
Although he’s yet to work with Floro—Canada’s coach is currently with the under-23 side for the Olympic qualifiers, and not with the senior team training in Florida—Hoilett has a great deal of respect for the Spaniard.
“Speaking to him one-on-one you can see he’s got a long-term vision and he knows the philosophy that he wants to imprint on the national team. You can see he’s eager and ambitious to help the Canadian team move forward,” Hoilett stated.
Hoilett is one of several young Canadian players being called up for the first time for the Ghana match. Others include Fraser Aird, Marco Bustos and Wandrille Lefevre. A host of other young players have been called in for the first time in 2015: Manuel Aparicio, Lucas Cavallini, Jordan Hamilton, Kianz Froese and Simon Thomas.
“It‘s good for them to get an opportunity to come into the national-team stage at a young age so they can get used to what Benito is trying to do with the program,” Hoilett said.
“It’s good to work with young players, and you can see the talent there—there’s a lot of young talent here that could help the Canadian team in the future. I’m happy to be here and help them out.”
Check back with Sportsnet.ca on Wednesday for John Molinaro’s story on another Canadian newcomer, Fraser Aird.