New era of Canadian women’s team begins under Heiner-Møller

Christine-Sinclair

Canada's Christine Sinclair, centre. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

Kenneth Heiner-Møller has some big shoes to fill as the new coach of the Canadian women’s team.

Having served as an assistant under John Herdman since 2015, Heiner-Møller, a 47-year-old native of Denmark, was appointed the new coach of the women’s side in early January after Herdman took over the Canadian men’s program.

The women’s team enjoyed its greatest success under Herdman, who led the squad to bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. Herdman’s side also reached the quarterfinals of the 2015 FIFA World Cup staged in Canada, the team’s best showing since finishing fourth at the 2003 tournament – the Reds bowed out in the first round of the 2007 and 2011 World Cups.

But now the Heiner-Møller era begins. Canada will compete in the annual Algarve Cup from Feb. 28 to March 7 in Portugal. The 12-nation tournament will mark Heiner-Møller’s first matches in charge of the women’s team.

Heiner-Møller spoke one-on-one with Sportsnet about replacing John Herdman, qualifying for the 2019 FIFA World Cup in France and his management style.

What’s your over-riding coach philosophy? Do you have a specific management style?
I’m someone who likes to involve players and the rest of the staff in a lot of the decisions. I don’t believe in a strong hierarchy. I like to hear opinions, I like to hear what other people think, and I like to hear what players think when they are on the pitch, instead of me telling them what I am seeing, and this is the truth. I believe in several truths – you have a truth and I have a truth, and can we combine them to have something to work from. I’m an inclusive kind of coach, and I like to get people involved in things.

You say there are “several truths,” and not just one truth. That’s very interesting, and, I would say, a very progressive attitude. How do you come by that philosophy?
Being a former player, I know that the things you see on the pitch during a game are sometimes much different than what you see from the sidelines. If you want to be a coach who connects with players, you have to see everything, and take everything into account. Sometimes, players know better than coaches do because they are involved in the game in real time. You can call it progressive, but if you look and the knowledge and experience of some of these [Canadian] players, you have to acknowledge that – you can’t ignore their opinions or what they’re experiences are because it adds value to what you are trying to do.

Tactically, how would you like to see the Canadian team play? Is there a style of play that you prefer?
We’re definitely going in a direction with the team. We will develop because the players are different than they were three years ago. We didn’t have Jessie Fleming or Janine Beckie playing at this level. The kind of style we can play is getting more sophisticated; we can dominate our opponents on the ball, we can attack opponents with the ball, which is very different compared to how Canada was playing three years ago. We will build on that.

Beyond winning games, what goals have you set for the Algarve Cup?
We are definitely going to try to make the final. We’ve been there two times, and we want to go a third time this year. But then there is the over-arching aim, which is to prepare for World Cup qualification later this year. I’m definitely having that in the back of my mind, and it’s in the back of players’ minds, too. We’re not compromising the goal of qualifying because teams around us are getting better, so we want to go to the final in Portugal, but also prepare for the World Cup qualification.

So, fair to say that the recently announced friendly against Germany on June 10 in Hamilton is an integral part of that preparation?
Yes, for qualification, but also well beyond that. We are very good [but] we want to go out and be No. 1 in the world. We have to compare ourselves to the best teams in the world as we prepare for the [World Cup] qualifiers. So, the game in Hamilton will be an awesome experience for our side to see if we are there yet, what part of the game we need to work on. Are we headed in the right direction? Or do we need to change things up? The game in Hamilton will be a good indicator. Germany has always been this big brother or big sister to us in that you just want to beat them. [Laughs] They have always been top performers. It’s one thing to get to the very top, but it’s another to stay there, and they’ve been able to stay at the top for so many years. It’ll be an interesting challenge for us.

For the Algarve Cup, you’ve called in goalkeeper Erin McLeod and midfielder Diana Matheson, two veterans who are returning from lengthy injury absences. How important to you is it to have those two players back in camp?
If you talk about Diana and the kind of style we can play with her, she is so comfortable on the ball and she can play in different positions, but she’s always giving you something on the ball, she’s giving you many options. Her skills, her vision of the game and her decision-making are just some of the qualities she brings us.

Erin is always very good in helping winning games for Canada. She’s been a part of that for so long. She’s great in the air, she knows when to go off her line and when to stay on it. She’ll definitely be pushing for the No. 1 [goalkeeper] spot.

When it was announced that John Herdman was moving over to the men’s team and you were taking over the women’s team, it caught a lot of people by surprise. Has the shock value worn off for the players? Are they still coming to terms with it?
They were definitely caught by surprise; a lot of people were. But we managed it good. I spoke with every player who is going to Portugal, and some who aren’t. I either spoke with them or met with them in person. They are in a good place now, based on the responses I received. They didn’t want to see John go, but they understand we’re doing something different now.

I don’t have to tell you that John was well thought of by his players, and he had a great deal of success with the program, so these are very big shoes you are attempting to fill. How do you feel about replacing someone like John who casts such a very big shadow?
As you said, it’s very big shoes to fill. But it’s not about John, it’s not about me – it’s about the team moving forward. I’m very excited about it, but I’m also pretty confident, without being arrogant. I don’t think this team has performed at the maximum [level] yet. That’s not to say that they have under-performed. Just if you look at the squad, you look at the talent that is there, we are still going to improve and get better. It could be because of me or despite me, but I just think this group of players will continue to perform and get better.

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