The Canadian women’s soccer team will have a new head coach patrolling the sidelines as it chases a third consecutive Olympic medal next summer in Tokyo. As for who that might be? Well, that remains a mystery.
Canada is not alone in the search for a head coach, however. More than half of FIFA’s current top-10 countries in the world rankings have either hired a new manager since the 2019 World Cup or are in the process of doing so.
Canada’s head coaching position has been vacant since Kenneth Heiner-Møller officially departed at the end of August to rejoin the Danish Football Association as the head of coach education.
So why hasn’t a replacement been named already? What’s with all the coaching changes around the world? Who’s in the mix for Canada? Here are some of those questions, answered:
What’s the hold up? The Olympics are 10 months away. Should Canadian soccer fans be worried?
Not at all. Yes, the postponed Tokyo Olympics are less than a year away, but technically there’s no rush. International friendlies are on hold indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meantime, most of Canada’s players are staying sharp by playing in professional environments whether it be in the National Women’s Soccer League’s Fall Series, the FA Women’s Super League, France’s Division 1 Feminine or with NCAA schools.
The fact that the organization is taking time to make the announcement can be seen as positive.
The women’s team is ranked No. 8 and are the reigning back-to-back Olympic bronze medallists. The program has been the crown jewel of Canada Soccer in terms of success and it’s well supported from a financial and resources perspective. They won’t rush this decision. This team has faced its share of quick coaching transitions in the past. They want this appointment to stick around.
The next coach will presumably lead the team through not only this Olympics but the next World Cup qualifying campaign and the 2024 Paris Olympics after that. Whether the person is an internal or external choice, there will be pressure to win now before some of its star core players hit retirement.
Canada isn’t the only top 10 country making coaching changes. What’s the deal?
To say there’s been a coaching carousel when it comes to women’s football since the 2019 FIFA World Cup, might be an understatement. Of the top 10 countries in FIFA’s world rankings, only four have not made a coaching change (Germany, France, Sweden and North Korea).
The gap between the top nations in the world is narrowing. Teams are jockeying for every technical and tactical advantage they can get and finding the right manager to jive with their players, vision and goals is critical.
► United States
Let’s start with the reigning World Cup champions and No. 1 team on the planet. Two-time World Cup winner Jill Ellis officially stepped down in October 2019 and Vlatko Andonovski (former OL Reign head coach) won the job. He has big boots to fill. Ellis is the most successful coach in the U.S. national team’s history with 106 wins and just seven losses. With the U.S.’s depth pool, he’ll have some tough personnel decisions to make ahead of Tokyo.
One of the co-hosts for the next World Cup, No. 7 Australia announced this week the hiring of Ellis’s former assistant, Tony Gustavsson. They’re hoping the Swede, who was a part of the American coaching staff in their previous two World Cup wins and their Olympic gold in London 2012, can jumpstart their program ahead of the 2023 tournament at home. He officially begins his new role with the Matildas in January.
The Lionesses made a bombshell announcement back in August when they named current Netherlands boss Sarina Wiegman as their new head coach, beginning after the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. So essentially she’ll be coaching her current country against her future country next summer in Japan. Just a tad awkward. She’ll take over from Phil Neville, whose contract is up next year.
Needless to say, the fourth-ranked Dutch are in the market to replace Wiegman, who was the mastermind behind the Oranje winning Euro 2017 on home soil as well as a runner-up finish to the U.S. at the World Cup. Also worth noting, the Football Association is hosting the next European championship in 2022.
Pia Sundhage took over the Brazilian team after they were eliminated in the Round of 16 at the World Cup in France. The native of Sweden is the first non-Brazilian to coach the squad, whose stars like Marta, Cristiane and Formiga are nearing the end of their playing careers. With the Tokyo Olympics coming up, Sundhage is a bona fide winner, having guided the U.S. to Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012 plus a silver medal as head coach of Sweden at Rio 2016.
Okay. Remind us. Who is in the mix to be Canada’s next head coach?
There are several qualified internal candidates, but in a June interview with The Canadian Press, Peter Montopoli, Canada Soccer’s general secretary, also indicated there was “significant interest globally for the position,” which closed officially on June 30.
► Rhian Wilkinson
If they stick within the program and elevate an assistant, Wilkinson would be the likely choice. The veteran Canadian international has connections to both the Herdman and Heiner-Møller eras. She’s the head coach of the women’s youth programs and served as an assistant with the senior squad at the last World Cup. She’s rocketed up the coaching ranks thanks to the same smarts, leadership and work ethic she was known for in her 181-cap career. The rub is she’s relatively green as a head coach and is only three years removed from retirement. If she’s the coach of the future, the hiring committee might not want to throw her onto the hot seat without some more seasoning.
► Daniel Worthington
Worthington is another assistant coach within the program who’s stretched over both Herdman and Heiner-Møller’s tenures. He’s also the leader of the EXCEL development program and served as head coach for Canada at the 2015 Pan Am Games, where they placed fourth.
► Bev Priestman
Priestman is a familiar face to the Canadian team. She held several positions during her six years with the program, including director of the EXCEL developmental program and head coach of the women’s under-17 and under-20 teams where she helped develop the next generation of Canadian stars. Currently an assistant with the Lionesses under Phil Neville, if Priestman wants to make a leap to a head coaching position, this might be it. Especially given that Wiegman is taking over the England program in 2021. Priestman only left two years ago so her knowledge of the Canadian pipeline would be an asset.
► Laura Harvey
Many soccer pundits believed Harvey was next in line to succeed Ellis for the top job on the U.S. team. As coach of the American under-20 team, she probably has the second-best job in the country, but if a head coaching opportunity is beckoning, then why not Canada? Along with her work in the U.S. system, she also served as an assistant with her native England’s youth teams. Professionally, she’s won titles while running Arsenal and won two NWSL shields with Seattle Reign (now OL).
► Dark horses
Isn’t there always a few? In taking a scan through the staffs of the top pro leagues in the world — the NWSL, the FA Women’s Super League and Division 1 Féminin — there are several interesting choices, that is if they wanted to leave to run a national team in another country. Like Harvey, there are candidates coaching at the youth level in Germany, France, England, etc., waiting for a big break. Would Canada take a chance on promoting a foreign under-20 coach or senior assistant when they have one of their own (Wilkinson) domestically? We shall see.