Christine Sinclair and Canada’s women’s soccer team will adjust to a workplace without John Herdman,
Karina LeBlanc is no longer a member of the Canadian women’s national team, but when news broke of John Herdman’s jump from the women’s side of the game to the men’s on Monday night, she was momentarily transported back to her days within the squad.
LeBlanc, who will be part of CBC’s Olympic coverage, was preparing for the upcoming Games when she stole a glance at her phone. A couple of text messages and a glance at Twitter informed her that Herdman, the women’s team coach since 2011, had replaced a fired Octavio Zambrano, who was brought on in March. Former assistant coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller is taking over the women’s program.
LeBlanc, who retired as a player after Canada hosted the Women’s World Cup in 2015, reached out to her former teammates immediately.
“That’s why I felt like I was in it,” she said. “It was like, ‘Oh my god, this is horrible.’ In terms of other people, it’s like if you had a favourite boss and your boss said he’s leaving, you’re gutted. That was the first little bit.”
The initial shock LeBlanc felt was echoed by many players on the Canadian women’s team, who reactions included surprise, dismay, gratitude and well-wishes.
“Speechless right now . . .,” tweeted captain Christine Sinclair in response to Canada Soccer’s announcement on the social media platform on Monday night.
Midfielder Diana Matheson, who scored the goal that won Canada a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics, the first of two Olympic bronzes collected during Herdman’s reign, shared her disappointment.
“Just sad about this one,” Matheson wrote. “Wishing John nothing (but) the best in his next challenge but still just sad.”
While early reports suggested that the announcement about Herdman’s move came prior to the players being informed, LeBlanc said he was able to speak with some players before it became public, including Sinclair.
“I can tell you, I know yesterday was a hard day for him,” she said. “A very hard day.”
Now, she said, the current players are working on processing the change in management, accepting it,
“I can tell you, I know yesterday was a hard day for him. A very hard day.” KARINA LEBLANC WOMEN’S NATIONAL TEAM ALUMNA
and moving on.
But it’s not as if the women’s team will be devoid of familiar faces: Bev Priestman, who has been with the Canadian Soccer Association since 2013, will oversee the under-15 to under-23 women’s programs, while acting as an assistant coach to Heiner-Moller. Former players such as Rhian Wilkinson and Carmelina Moscato are also involved in the organization at the coaching level.
LeBlanc and fellow retired Canadian international Marie-Eve Nault agreed that Herdman would not have left the women’s team had he not felt it was in a good place and could make a seamless transition under Heiner-Moller.
“He’s laid a good foundation for people to carry on his legacy and be able to strive even if he’s not physically there,” said Nault, who officially left the game in early 2017, not long after Canada won its second bronze medal at the Rio Olympics.
Nault, who also found out about Herdman’s new role on Twitter, was also in the “shocked” camp. A group chat among current and former players blew up straight away, she said. For Nault, LeBlanc and many of their former teammates, Herdman was the best coach they ever had.
“He challenged us not only as soccer players but as human beings, just to always be better on the field but off the field as well, always thinking about what our purpose is but not only on the soccer field,” Nault said. “I think that’s very powerful.”
Nault played under Heiner-Moller at the Olympics in Brazil in 2016. She called the Dane, who coached Denmark’s women’s national team from 2006 to 2013, a “master of transition.”
While she doesn’t believe anyone thought Herdman would move on from the women’s team until after the 2020 Olympics, Nault doesn’t think his abrupt departure will hold the fifth-ranked women’s team back.
“I think it just needs a little bit of time to process and then, after that, it’s still soccer, it’s a game,” she said. “Everyone that’s involved — John, Kenneth, the men’s or the women’s team — they’re all passionate about the game, they want to represent our country and be the best that they can be.”