With just days left before the job posting closes June 30, Canada Soccer says it has already received applications from around the world to succeed women’s coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller, who is leaving for his native Denmark at the end of August.
“There’s been significant interest globally for the position,” said Peter Montopoli, Canada Soccer’s general secretary. “As it should be, to be honest with you, with the investment that Canada Soccer makes in the women’s program and what we’ve done historically in terms of on-the-pitch success.
“Domestically and within CONCACAF, we’re recognized as a world leader. So it should come with significant interest.”
The Canadian women are currently ranked eighth in the world — and were as high as No. 4 in the wake of winning a second straight Olympic bronze medal in 2016 under John Herdman.
Of most interest may be the applications from within the country.
Canada Soccer started the Elite Player-Elite Coach program in 2014 to develop the next generation of coaches internally. Part of the strategy was to have women lead women.
The Canadian women have been coached by imports since 2000 with Heiner-Moller, Herdman (England), Carolina Morace (Italy) and Even Pellerud (Norway) at the helm.
Neil Turnbull, an English-born Canadian, and Quebec’s Sylvie Beliveau coached prior to that.
“We would like to think as Canada Soccer that the investments we’ve made historically will pay off down the road in terms of more Canadians interested in both of our national team programs — men and women — certainly,” said Montopoli, choosing his words carefully.
“And we’d like to think that there is interest certainly for domestic candidates.”
Rhian Wilkinson is seen as a leading internal candidate. The 38-year-old, who won 181 caps for Canada in a distinguished playing career that stretched from 2003 to 2017, started coaching while still playing with Herdman — while in charge of the women’s program — offering her a chance to serve as an assistant coach at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup on home soil.
She took advantage of injury absences toward the end of her playing career to get her coaching badges. She got her UEFA B coaching badge with the Football Association of Wales — paying her own way.
Wilkinson got her UEFA A Diploma for Coaching in 2019 and also served in the inaugural FIFA Coach Mentorship Program alongside mentor coach Hope Powell, a former England coach.
A native of Baie-D’Urfe, Que., who now calls North Vancouver home, Wilkinson has served as head coach of both the Canadian women’s under-17 and under-20 soccer teams and an assistant coach with the senior team.
Wilkinson is well-respected, knows the team and is seen as a leader.
The Elite Player-Elite Coach program is the main reason Wilkinson and former teammates Robyn Gayle and Melissa Tancredi were part of Heiner-Moller’s support team at last summer’s World Cup. Former striker Carmelina Moscato has also been part of the Canada Soccer coaching setup.
With limited time before next summer’s Olympics, a candidate well-versed with the program and the players would seemingly have an advantage.
A selection committee will review the applications in July. The hope is to bring in the new coach in time to have some transition time with Heiner-Moller before he departs for Europe.
The new coach will be looking forward to two Olympics and a World Cup, as well qualifying campaigns for the second Olympics and 2023 World Cup, from 2021 to 2014.
“So there’s a lot going on in that short of window of time,” Montopoli said. “It’s condensed. But (it) certainly allows the successful candidate an opportunity to put their stamp on the program.”
Heiner-Moller, whose next challenge will be as head of coach education for the Danish Football Association, became head coach in January 2018 when Herdman left to take over the Canadian men.
There is another top coaching job open at No. 6 England. While Phil Neville is still under contract for another year, he has said he does not want to keep going through the European Championship, which has been pushed back a year to 2022 because of COVID-19 pandemic.
Neville’s No. 2 is Bev Priestman, who left her role with Canada Soccer in August 2018 to return home and join England’s FA. Priestman served as director of the women’s EXCEL developmental program for ages 15 to 23, youth teams head coach and assistant coach with the senior side.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2020.