Former Canadian assistant coach Rhian Wilkinson has joined the coaching staff of the England women’s soccer team.
It’s a move that could see the former Canadian international face her former team at the Tokyo Olympics, although the coaching setup for Team Great Britain has yet to be finalized.
“I do hope that that’s going to be a part of it, but there’s not a guarantee on that,” Wilkinson said in an interview.
Wilkinson quit Canada Soccer last week, saying she was stepping aside to challenge herself and to add to her coaching skills — with an eye to coaching Canada in the future. The 38-year-old, who won 181 caps for Canada as a player, had been serving as assistant coach of the senior women’s team and head coach of the under-17 and under-20 sides.
England’s Football Association said Wilkinson will support former Norway midfielder Hege Riise, England’s interim coach. Kay Cossington, the FA’s head of women’s technical development, will also help at a February camp.
Sarina Wiegman is slated to take over the sixth-ranked English women as head coach after guiding the Netherlands at the Tokyo Olympics.
The FA said both Riise and Wilkinson had agreed to short-term contracts.
“I’m hoping I’m able to show what I can do,” Wilkinson said in an interview. “Whether that’s to stay on and work for Sarina — she’s got her own people, I’ve not even asked yet, but it would be nice to learn from one of the best in the game.”
Wilkinson already has a relationship with Riise. They played together at Norway’s Strommen, which ultimately became LSK Kvinner, where Riise served as an assistant and then head coach after retiring.
The 51-year-old Riise, named the 1995 world player of the year, won the Olympics, World Cup and European Championship as a player.
“It’s been a long time that we’ve known each other. I really look forward to working with her,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson will be packing quickly. The England camp starts Feb. 14 and she will have to complete quarantine upon arrival there.
Sue Campbell, the FA’s director of women’s football, said the FA will turn its attention to the Team GB coaching staff after the camp.
“Once February is complete, we will sit down and assess the Lionesses’ situation and consider next steps for Team GB in consultation with the home nations and the British Olympic Association,” Campbell said in a statement.
The English women’s coaching staff has been in a state of flux recently. Head coach Phil Neville has joined Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami while Bev Priestman, his former assistant, took over the Canadian women’s team in November. Wilkinson had succeeded Priestman as Canada youth coach when she returned to her native England in 2018.
Priestman offered Wilkinson her best wishes via social media, calling the Wilkinson hire “a great appointment.”
“See you in on the sideline sometime soon, my friend,” she added.
Another opening came up on the England staff when Rehanne Skinner went to Tottenham last November. The FA said both Riise and Wilkinson applied for Skinner’s job.
Neville, a former teammate of Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham at Manchester United, had been tabbed to coach Great Britain at the Olympic soccer tournament before taking the MLS job.
Wilkinson also applied for the top Canadian job but was told it was too early in her coaching career. Priestman asked her to stay on, but Wilkinson wanted to challenge herself elsewhere.
Wilkinson, a native of Baie-D’Urfe, Que., who now calls North Vancouver home, played for Canada between 2003 and 2017, finishing with seven goals and 23 assists.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press