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Sinclair issues Canada 'wake-up call,' but is it the end?

Matt Pearson Melbourne
July 31, 2023

A missed penalty and a 4-0 thrashing is not the end that the game's greatest international goalscorer had imagined. But, as Christine Sinclair issues one final "wake-up call," her legacy in Canadian football is assured.

Christine Sinclair and teammates react after conceding the second goal against Australia
"If this isn't a wake-up call, I don't know what is" - Sinclair's legacy in Canadian football is assuredImage: Scott Barbour/The Canadian Press/ZUMA Press/picture alliance

Timing, so the saying goes, is everything. And, for much of the past 23 years, Christine Sinclair has mastered it better than most.

The late arrivals in the box, the finish when the goalkeeper commits, the Olympic gold medal at the age of 38 to cap a career as the record international goalscorer in men's or women's football.

Most assumed that, with her 40th birthday looming, Sinclair would bow out after the win in Tokyo in 2021. But she admitted to herself at the time that she "just found it too hard to walk away," and the quiet determination that has characterized her career drove her on to at least one more tournament where, perhaps, she got her timing wrong.

After a World Cup that began with Sinclair missing a crucial penalty in Canada's 0-0 opener against Nigeria and ended with her being substituted at halftime during a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Australia, the chances of going out on a high are now vanishingly slim.

"The reality with a World Cup is that all but one team leaves the way we're feeling right now," she told DW, declining to reveal whether or not she has decided on her future yet and preferring to focus of the future of her team that she has captained for so long.

"For me, it's just helping out the youngsters, helping this fuel them moving forward but also the youngsters back home in Canada."

Christine Sinclair (center) looks on from the bench after being substituted
The bench was not where Sinclair wanted to end her World Cup or, indeed, her careerImage: Scott Barbour/The Canadian Press/picture alliance

Will Sinclair stay around for a seventh World Cup?

With Sinclair now four decades old, a seventh World Cup, and with it the chance to become the first person to score at six different tournaments, would appear out of reach. Though some hope it's not.

"That is not the way any of us would want to go out," central defender Kadeisha Buchanan said. "Especially if it may or may not be your last one. Hopefully she can go on one more time for the rest of us, because we need her and we love her.”

It was certainly clear that it stung. Though Sinclair, Buchanan and their teammates were disconsolate, it's equally clear that this tournament alone will not define one of women's football's strongest legacies. It's more than just the 190 goals.

"For me, Sinc epitomizes what it is to be Canadian: humble, hardworking, respectful," said her coach, Bev Priestman, to FIFA ahead of the tournament.

"But she's also an absolute winner, and I think sometimes, when you've got a quiet, shy character, you can sometimes mistake that," Priestman said. "She's like the Michael Jordan of Canada, and she has a massive impact on this team."

Whether this was her last dance or not, her impact on Canadian football is clear from talking to the rest of the squad, who consistently speak of Sinclair as an example of calm, quiet and focused dedication and the rewards and inspiration that offers.

Even Monday's opposition were aware they may be seeing a great of the game for the last time.

"Her career speaks for itself," Matildas midfielder Emily van Egmond told DW. "To be able to play at the highest level and be such a pinnacle for Canadian football and world football is unbelievable,

"She's been amazing, and it's super special to see how she's conducted herself over the years, how successful she's been," van Egmond said. "She's just a great player."

Sinclair missed a crucial penalty in the opening game against Nigeria
Sinclair missed a crucial penalty in the opening game against NigeriaImage: REUTERS

Sinclair: 'Wake-up call' for Canadian football

With the country lagging far behind the neighboring United States, both on the international and domestic scene, and the players having fought numerous public battles with their federation over pay, bonuses and conditions, Sinclair has had to be a politician as well as an athlete.

The most recent example came just a few months before the World Cup, with Sinclair leading a strike that was later patched up, temporarily, to the disappointment of the players and their leader.

"With our federation, things have to change," Sinclair said. "We don't have a professional league. We don't have that pathway for players to reach the national team. And, if this isn't a wake-up call, I don't know what is."

A deeply private person for most of her career, Sinclair has become increasingly vocal about changes she feels are required in Canadian football and in women's sport more broadly. Though she acknowledges some progression in the 23 years since she made her international bow have been significant, she wants more.

There's little doubting her impact on the sport, particularly in her homeland. Even if she does decide to end her time playing it on such a low note, Sinclair said she has plenty to hold on to.

"Obviously, it's hard knowing the World Cup is over, with how it ended," Sinclair said. "And, obviously, that's just raw emotion right now. But, looking back on it in time, we created memories, we got young players their first World Cup experience that will go on and lead Canada in the future. But right now it's a little raw."

Looking for the positives even in a low moment is true to form. But there's also little disguising that watching your teammates fizzle out of a World Cup from the bench would be a tough way to end an international career that started aged 17 in 2000.

Sinclair has surprised the world before, but she knows it's all a question of timing.

Edited by: Matt Ford