There is no replacing Christine Sinclair. But with the 40-year-old now retired from international commitments, the Canadian women’s national team do need a new face to wear the captain’s armband. Bev Priestman is in no rush to put all that pressure on one player.
“The captain isn’t going to fill Christine’s shoes,” the CanWNT head coach told Canadian media members on a Zoom call on Wednesday.
“I think for me I want to take any pressure away from filling Christine’s shoes and more put attention on that there’s a group of players with very good experiences, medals around their necks, unique qualities who all are going to contribute to help a leader move forward.”
Succeeding one of the sport’s all-time greats comes with immeasurable pressure, so it’s no surprise that Priestman is keen to take that off Sinclair’s successor. But given the consistent core that the CanWNT gaffer has had since winning gold in Tokyo now two-and-a-half years ago, there can only be a couple of choices in the 37-year-old’s mind. Priestman, however, is happy to see an organic transition in the CanWNT room in the absence of such clear-cut alpha leaders like Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt.
“Obviously, I’ve had them internal conversations and I’m super excited to see people step up and I don’t mean one individual, I mean a group of people now.
“Whenever you have a veteran group around, not by design but just by nature, people kind of take that backseat a little bit more. But what I started to see at the backend of last year was people grabbing the reigns a little bit and this team becoming leader filled and I think that’s going to be critical based on the age of the team. To be successful we’re going to need a leader filled team on the pitch as well as off the pitch.”
This year’s CONCACAF W Gold Cup, which kicks off on February 20 and finishes with a final at San Diego’s Snapdragon Stadium on March 10, will be a great opportunity for Priestman and her staff to assess which of the 23 players she selected on Wednesday elevate their leadership even further.
Related read: Canada head coach Bev Priestman names CanWNT’s final roster for this month’s CONCACAF W Gold Cup
“In many ways Christine filled it by just who Christine was and what Christine did, but at the end of the day the leadership model will continue and the leadership model that’s always been felt in this team is that there’s a group of players that all bring different things and the leadership happens on the pitch and off the pitch; voices, lead by example and that sort of thing.”
But, by the time the Olympics roll around and in the hype-filled lead-up to CanWNT heading to Paris to defend their gold medal, Priestman will have to give the iconic armband to just one player.
“There’s obviously some bread crumbs there in terms of where we’ve been going with the captaincy,” Priestman admitted. There’s an overwhelming portion of CanSoc Twitter that thinks Jessie Fleming is the only option, including Canadian Soccer Daily managing editor Tom Nightingale.
Related read: Jessie Fleming is ready — she must be Canada’s captain after Christine Sinclair’s CanWNT retirement
Canada will kick off their W Gold Cup campaign on February 22 against a still to be determined opponent. The preliminary rounds will finish up on on February 17 and round out the four team group. Canada will face Costa Rica and Paraguay in Group C play.