Born: 12 June 1983 in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Height: 1.75 m
Weight: 68 kg
Clubs: 2001-2005: University of Portland (USA). Since 2006: Vancouver Whitecaps (Canada).
Honors: 2005, 2006 Canadian Player of the Year. 2006 ?W’ League Player of the Year. Winner of 2004 and 2005 Hermann Trophy as NCAA top footballer. 92 caps for Canada, 70 goals.
Christine Sinclair is Canadian, 24 years old and one of the best female footballers in the world. At the FIFA Women’s World Cup in China, the striker aims to show her skill once more and help her team win a medal.
The past few years have been very kind to Canada’s Christine Sinclair. Twice nominated for the prestigious FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year award and named winner of the Hermann Trophy, the highest award for NCAA college footballers, in both 2004 and 2005, she has humbly accepted accolades with a gracious smile. All the time though, she has had her mind set firmly on something much more valuable – this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in China.
“Those individual awards are nice but it’s a team sport,” she explains. “I want our team to make our goal which is to win a medal at the World Cup and then do the same at the Olympics next year. That is my ultimate goal. If individual awards come, that’s great, but ultimately I want to win the big one.”
The 24-year-old from Vancouver is, without question, an essential member of Canada’s World Cup team. Coach Even Pellerud is counting on his star to continue her impressive goalscoring spree that has, at the time of writing, taking her within one goal of equaling Charmaine Hooper as her country’s all-time leading goalscorer. Hooper retired from national team duties having scored 71 international goals. Characteristically Sinclair discounts all the fuss surrounding the record, claiming only her team-mates have raised the issue. “I never think about it,” she says quietly, “but my roommate Rhian Wilkinson brought it up before we played the U. S. She said ?Oh my God, you are only two of three behind.’ That was the first time I had heard about it for a very long time.”
Football is indeed a team sport, but every so often a player comes along who can influence a game with individual flair. Pellerud is in a good position to judge ability having coached professionals in both Canada and his native Norway. In fact, he led Norway to the FIFA Women’s World Cup final in 1991 when they claimed the silver medal. He says he would rate very few ahead of his prize pupil in terms of pure skills.
“Well, she is so obviously very talented,” says Pellerud. “She proved her talent at the age of 15, played her first game for me at the age of 15, and scored against Norway in her first game. The talent has always been there. As always with younger players, her development went in stages. Great athletes always find a way to perform but it was not a steady progression, it was a little bit up and down. All in all, a nice healthy development all along. In terms of skills, she always had them. She has become a better header, a more consistent player. She has become a leader of the team and happily for us she has kept scoring goals.”
In a deal struck between the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and the Canadian team, the players have been living in residence in the beautiful grounds of the University of the British Columbia. Their train together twice a day, apart from when they are traveling or when they are granted the occasional day off. One such respite saw them spent five days in a cabin on picturesque Vancouver Island, but normally Sinclair finds herself so tired from training that she simply lounges around the apartment watching television – “usually football games,” she adds, laughing.
Pelllerud would very much like to improve upon the team’s performance in the 2003 Women’s World Cup when they lost to Sweden in the semi-finals.
In the build-up to this year’s event, the CSA has also come to an arrangement with the semi-professional ?W’ League to release players from their contracts for this season. Sinclair played for Vancouver Whitecaps last year, helping them to win the ?W’ League championship. She does acknowledge, however, that the financial support of the federation and the Canadian Olympic Association has been rather generous.
“It was only Chairmaine”
Despite best-laid plans, progress has not been entirely smooth. Canada flew to China in late April for a pair of friendlies against their hosts, losing both games, before arriving, jetlagged and weary, in Dallas, Texas for a friendly against their nemesis, the USA. The Americans hammered Canada 6-2 in a most disappointing result from a Canadian perspective, but Sinclair, like many great champions, found a silver in the debacle.
“We had been back from China three or four days and then we were expected to play the US,” she says, her voice trailing off, unable to mask her disappointment. “Everyone was waking up at four o’clock in the morning because they were jetlagged. We play very poorly. It was the worst game we had play in a very long time. But in the long run, it will be good for us because it was a wake-up call. You can already see it in the way we are practicing. We have some things to work on but we have time to do it. Come World Cup time will be able to look back on the game against the US and realize it might have been a good thing to get our butts kicked.”
Sinclair credits her parents for enrolling their daughter in a children’s football programme at the age of four, eschewing the tradition of hockey-mad nation. Two of her uncles – Brian and Bruce Gant, also played professionally with the Portland Timbers of the now defunct North American Soccer League. All in all, she was surrounded by footballers.
It was after she earned a place in the British Columbia provincial U-17 team that she first came to the attention of the national coaches. She was just 14. At that time she was in awe of players like Chairmaine Hooper and American superstar Mia Hamm. ?In Canadian football it was only Chairmaine,” says the heir apparent. “Just know you could make a living and continue to play, and represent your country, she was definitely someone I looked up to. Mia was by far the biggest name in women’s football. She is still the biggest name in our sport. The recognition she has brought to the game, and that is aside from her talent and her goalscoring ability, she’s someone pretty much every young player, including myself, looked up to and wanted to be like.”
There is only one Hamm though. Whereas Hamm is outgoing and very professional in her demeanour, Sinclair appears rather shy. She is clearly more comfortable on the pitch. She does make occasional public appearances for her sponsor, Nike, and for local football clinics with the intention of influencing young girls to take up the game. They are similar, though, in both their determination on the park as well as in their sincerity off it. Twenty minutes into a conversation, at which point she has warmed to the interviewer, Sinclair, describes her most memorable moment if football.
More goals to score
“For me the biggest moment was at college in 2002 when we won the NCAA championship,” she recalls quietly. “That was special and everything, but what it made it more special was that our coach at the time, Clive Charles, he had been to so many final fours and semi-finals and had never been able to win the big game. And we finally won it and it ended up being the last game he ever coached. He passed away from cancer a few months after that. To see him hug the trophy and you sort of knew that was going to be his last game as a coach. That was special.”
Canada’s top player hopes to hug another trophy come September when her team competes in the FIFA Women’s World Cup in China. Before then though, there is still a lot of work to do and many more goals to score.