Canada’s first World Cup appearance since 1986 will be soon upon us, and for millions of Canadians it’ll be the first time they see their country at a World Cup! In fact, in the current Canada national team set up, only one player was even alive when Canada was last at a World Cup, thirty-nine year old Atiba Hutchinson. It’s been a long career for the midfielder, who has spent the vast majority of it in Europe, now with his career reaching its twilight, a player who has done it all will be looking to achieve a lifelong dream, represent Canada at the World Cup. This is the story of a Canadian legend. Atiba Hutchinson.
Atiba Hutchinson was born in Brampton Ontario on February 8th, 1983 and it didn’t take long for him to take up soccer, as he joined Brampton YSC when he was four years old. Atiba would continue to impress as he rose up the youth ranks and by the turn of the millennium, the young midfielder looked set for great things!
First came a trial with German giants, Schalke 04, and while a permanent move didn’t materialise, the experience of training with a well known European club would’ve done wonders for the youngster. Hutchinson would make his professional debut in 2002 with the York Sharpshooters, but he would soon be on the move to Toronto Lynx. In total the teenager made six appearances combined for York and Toronto in 2002, impressing enough to once again earn the attention of Europe, and the Canadian National set up.
Hutchinson was already a familiar figure in the Canada youth ranks, he was part of Canada’s FIFA U20 World Squads in 2001 and 2003 – making it as far as the quarterfinal in 2003 which today remains the U20’s squads best ever World Cup performance. 2003 would continue to be a landmark year for Hutchinson, he made his debut for the senior team on January 18th 2003 against the United States and would go to be included in Canada’s 2003 GOLD CUP squad. While the team was far from a vintage Canada side, the performance of the young gave the side hope for the future.
By 2003, Hutchinson was settled in Europe, playing in Swedens top tier, the Allsvenskan for three seasons with Östers and then Helsingborgs. Hutchinson would finish no higher than 6th in the league during his time in Sweden, but then add an upwards move in 2005, going to Danish side Copenhagen. Copenhagen manager Ståle Solbakken seen the potential in Hutchinson to play a more attacking role. During his five seasons in the Danish capital, Hutchinson scored twenty-five goals and registered ten assists, the most productive period in his career in terms of goal involvement!
It was also the first time he experienced on field success. Copenhagen won the Danish league in four of the five years Hutchinson was there, won one Danish Cup and even qualified for the UEFA Champions League group stage in 2006. Hutchinson played all ninety minutes in every one of Copenhagen’s six group games against Manchester United, Benfica and Celtic. In their home game against Celtic, Hutchinson scored just two minutes in, his first ever champions league goal! In his last season with the club, Hutchinson was awarded as Danish Superliga player of the year, and was voted by the Copenhagen fans into their All Time XI, as part of the club centennial celebrations.
Meanwhile, Hutchinson was well on the way to establishing himself as a regular for Canadas starting eleven. By October 2010, Hutchinson had already made fifty appearances for Canada and had represented his country in four GOLD Cups. He would score an own goal against the States in the 2005 GOLD Cup as Canada went out in the group stage, but he and Canada however would have a much better competition in 2007.
Canada would reach the GOLD Cup semi final against the USA. Hutchinson played every minute of the tournament for Canada, and looked set to have his defining moment. Down 2-1 to the US, Canada were pushing for an equaliser very late on, and when an American defender accidentally put the ball into the path of Hutchinson – he made no mistake slotting the equaliser for Canada….or so he thought. The officials inexplicably ruled the goal out for offside, infuriating Hutchinson and entire Canadian side – today it is still a sore memory for Canadians.
Despite this heartbreak, and Canada continuing to fail to qualify for any World Cups, Hutchinson continued to answer the national teams call, earning the Canada Soccer Player of the Year honour for the first time in 2010.
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After 2010, Hutchinson left Copenhagen for Dutch giants – PSV Eindhoven. Whilst in the Netherlands, Hutchinson continued to show his versatility, while he was deployed in an attacking role in Denmark, PSV boss Fred Rutten used Hutchinson as a right back on account of the depth PSV had at centre so midfield during Hutchinson’s time there.
That didn’t stop Hutchinson impressing though, he still made 115 appearances in three seasons for PSV, winning the KNVB Cup in 2012 – a game in which he started at right back. They also made it to the Europa league quarterfinal in 2011, the furthest Hutchinson had ever gotten in a European competition. In 2012, Hutchinson was again honoured as Canada Soccer Player of the Year, and was placed in Canada’s all time XI as part of Canadian Soccers centennial celebration (sound familiar?)
After three years in the Netherlands, the now thirty year old Atiba Hutchinson decided to leave PSV in order to pursue a move to the English Premier league. Clubs like Stoke City, Everton and Fulham were reportedly interested in Hutchinson, but ultimately, a move to England never materialised. Hutchinson moved on to Turkish giants Beşiktaş, and what was initially just a short term two year contract would turn into a ten year love affair! Hutchinson endeared himself to the Istanbul fans with his performances in central midfield, and has been an almost ever present. From 2012/13 to 2021/22, Hutchison averaged just over thirty-six appearances a season, totalling to 326 appearances for Beşiktaş and scoring twenty-six goals.
Hutchinson fully cemented himself as a defensive midfielder for Beşiktaş and became club captain in 2020. To this day he has won three league titles in Turkey, and one Turkish cup. On the European stage, Hutchinson’s finest moment came in 2017/2018. The then thirty-four year old played in seven Champions League games for Beşiktaş that season and in a group containing Porto, RB Leipzig and Monaco – the Istanbul based club topped the group to advance to the last sixteen for the first time in both their history and the first time in Hutchinson careers. They would lose to Bayern Munich in the knockout stage, but it was still a memorable run!
Back with the national team, Hutchinson continued to achieve personal glory, but lacked any substantial success was a team. In 2012, the same year he was Canada Soccer player of the year, he was part of the team that has their World Cup dreams torn apart in a humiliating 8-1 loss to Honduras. After turning thirty, Hutchinson was starting to appear less for the national side, from 2013-2018, Hutchinson played in eighteen games for Canada, and didn’t play in any GOLD Cups. In contrast from 2007-2013, he played in thirty-three games. Hutchinson was continuing to impressive at club level, again winning the Canada Soccer Player of the Year award in 2014,15,16 and 17, but injuries and a focus on club were at the forefront of Hutchinson’s mind when it came to the national team.
It appeared that just as John Herdman’s reign in charge of Canada was beginning – Hutchinson’s time with Canada was winding down after yet another failed World Cup qualification campaign for 2018. The 2019 GOLD Cup looked set to be the then thirty-six year olds final tournament for Canada, but Herdman convinced the veteran to stay on. Hutchinson played sparingly for between 2019-2021, but come the final round of CONCACAF qualification for the 2022 World Cup – Hutchinson would finally be part of a successful Canada team.
Hutchinson played in ten of the fourteen games Canada played in the the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, and had two notable highlights that will go down in Canadian soccer history. Against Mexico in November 2021, Hutchinson earned his ninetieth cap for Canada, making him the most capped mens player in Canadian soccer history! He played the full ninety minutes against Mexico that night, as Canada defeated the regional powerhouse 2-1, their first win over Mexico since 2000. Then in February, in a crucial game away to El Salvador, the thirty-nine year old ran almost the entire length of the pitch to get on the end of Cyle Larin’s cross and scored one of them most unorthodox goals you’ll ever see to break the deadlock, and help Canada win in El Salvador for the first time since 1996.
Hutchinson played the full ninety minutes at home against Jamaica in March 202, the 4-0 secured Canada’s qualification for the World Cup, after four failed World Cup qualification campaigns, Hutchinson had finally achieved a lifelong dream at the fifth time of asking, and you’d be hard pressed to find a Canadian who wasn’t overjoyed for him!
A few years ago, Hutchinson was arguably more well known in Turkey than he was in Canada, now – he is for sure a household name as the captain who lead Canada to the World Cup!
As of mid October 2022, Atiba Hutchinson has been struggling with a bone bruise injury, resulting in him not having made any appearances for club or country in the 2022/23. He is back in training now, but it’s still up in the air how much game time Hutchinson will play in Qatar. No one deserves to play in Qatar more than Atiba Hutchinson, ninety-seven appearances for Canada and nine goals, six Canadian player of the year awards, and a place in the all time X1. Domestically, Hutchinson has made over seven-hundred club appearances and has won major honours in Turkey, Denmark and The Netherlands.
No matter what condition Atiba Hutchinson will be in for the World Cup, it’ll almost certainly be the his swan song for Canada. If he can play even just a minute in the World Cup, become a World Cup player, it’ll be the perfect end to a legendary international career!
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