Due South, a television series screened in the mid-1990s, tells the story of a Canadian policeman transferred to the US city of Chicago, where it becomes clear that the investigation techniques used by Mounties differ significantly from those of local law enforcers. While Nikolas Ledgerwood’s own story has precious little to do with fighting crime, it quickly became apparent to him upon arriving in Germany from Canada in 2003 that his new homeland marched to a different beat from the country in which he was born.
“All of football history is here,” the midfielder told FIFA.com in perfect German. “It’s a cult here, almost a religion. Every city has an incredible stadium, a youth academy, and there are three professional divisions in which genuinely good football is played in front of sizeable crowds.
"We don’t have anything like that in Canada. Our top teams all play in the American MLS. We need our own league if we want to continue to improve.”
Twelve years have passed since Ledgerwood landed in Europe, and the Canadian now feels very much at home in the land of the four-time world champions. He has amassed all kinds of experience while playing for six different teams in the second and third tiers of German football.
“I’ve settled in really well,” he said. “Footballing life and culture here is fantastic - we don’t have that to the same extent in Canada. Having said that, I do miss my home, family and friends." When asked whether he feels more like a German these days, the 30-year-old laughed and replied: “That’ll never happen. I’ll always be a Canadian at heart.”
Ledgerwood is intent upon returning to North America once he hangs up his boots: “I’d love to play in the MLS somewhere near home. I have no idea when that might happen - it depends what options are available. I’ve still got time. If I got the chance to play in the USA or Canada, I would definitely give it some serious thought.”
DVDs and a dream
His immediate objective, however, is to secure promotion into the second tier of German football with Energie Cottbus. Ledgerwood’s eventual return to North America would certainly make things easier for Canada coach Benito Floro, as keeping up-to-date with the latest news from Germany’s lower leagues is tricky, though not impossible.
“The national team’s coaching staff watch every match,” Ledgerwood explained. “After every game we get a DVD with video clips of us, along with information on the position we played and how long we were on the pitch. We also keep in touch via telephone and email.”
Since his first call-up to the Canucks squad in 2007, Ledgerwood has become one of their most experienced internationals, winning 43 caps along the way. Nevertheless, he is still hoping to pull off the biggest coup of all.
“Qualifying for our second World Cup after 1986 would be a dream for everyone in Canada,” he said. “It would show that we’re very much on the right track. For me, that would be an even bigger achievement than our CONCACAF Gold Cup victory in 2000.”
That title inspired him and gave hope to every player who pulls on a Canada shirt. “Unfortunately it was just one tournament,” he reflected, before adding: “It’s now important for us to reach the final rounds of World Cup qualification so that we have a chance to work wonders. Belize are our next opponents, and two good performances will see us through to the next round. After that we’ve got to show that we’ve improved and are prepared to keep improving.”
A trip to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ would be the third appearance on the global stage for a player who previously represented his country at the 2003 and 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cups.
“I was so excited about that,” he recalled. “It’s every footballer’s dream to feature at an international tournament. There were so many top players in Dubai back then, like Lionel Messi or Andres Iniesta. I went to 1860 Munich after the competition, so there’s no doubt that it opened doors for me.”
This breakthrough enabled the 18-year-old Ledgerwood to cross the Atlantic Ocean and embark on a major adventure, and he now hopes recent results can do the same for a new generation. Although hosting the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ and co-hosting the Gold Cup are both milestones that will help to promote the sport in Canada, he acknowledged that “football is a success game. If we don’t succeed as a team, fewer fans will come through the turnstiles, but if we become more successful, then the crowds and enthusiasm will grow too.”
Although Canada exited this summer’s Gold Cup after the group stage, they only conceded one goal in their three pool matches. There is no question that the best way to generate a buzz around the sport in the nation is to secure a place at Russia 2018. Should the Canucks overcome Belize in their upcoming qualifying tie, they will meet teams such as Mexico and Honduras in the next round. Ledgerwood said: “Once we get there we’ve got to pick up as many points at home as we possibly can, and hopefully that’ll help us to get over the line in the end. Everyone’s hoping we can do it.”
While Ledgerwood’s experiences to date might not be extensive enough for a TV show, he may still get the chance to write a spectacular success story – and that really would be something.