It is often said that numbers can be twisted to tell a variety of different tales. With Christine Sinclair, however, the old adage about ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’ does not apply. The Canada striker’s stats – 161 international goals and 41 assists - point in just one direction, and paint an entirely accurate picture. Sinclair, as those figures would suggest, is one of the women’s game’s all-time greats.
Only this week, the 32-year-old added yet another feat to an ever-growing list when she surpassed Mia Hamm, the USA icon whose haul of 158 goals stood as a world record for the best part of a decade. The significance of eclipsing such a legendary figure was immediately apparent. “When I started my career, Mia Hamm was the name of women’s soccer,” said the Portland Thorns striker. “She was definitely an idol of mine growing up, and I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d reach the amount of goals that she scored. It’s surreal that it’s got to this point.”
Only the recently retired Abby Wambach, who broke Hamm’s record in 2013 and bowed out on 184 goals, is now left for her to aim for, and few expect Sinclair to fall short. Yet while extraordinary achievements have become commonplace over time, the first glimpse of the Canadian’s brilliance came 14 years ago at the inaugural FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup. The tournament was hosted in Canada and Sinclair was its star, scoring ten goals – a record that stands to this day – to earn an awards double as the fledgling youth showpiece’s best player and top scorer. Her prolific and powerful displays also helped propel the hosts to the final, and while they were edged out by the USA in extra time, experiencing such an occasion – in front of a near-48,000 crowd – gave her belief, and a taste for more.
As she told FIFA.com: “It was my first major tournament, so for it to go the way it did - both in terms of my individual performance and the team's success - gave me a massive amount of confidence. It was just a case of realising, 'Yeah, I can do this'. And that's why these tournaments can be so important to the players involved.
“I still talk about that tournament with the other girls who played that year; it’s something we all look back on very fondly. The whole scale of it, and the sheer number of fans, totally exceeded our expectations. It set football in this country, and women's football in particular, in the right direction and I think we've continued making strides ever since.”
Canada 2015 creating dreams
Last year’s senior FIFA Women’s World Cup provided the ultimate evidence of that, with enthusiasm for the tournament in Canada reflected in record crowds and bumper TV audiences. And while the hosts were again left heartbroken thanks to a quarter-final defeat by England, Sinclair – even at the time – was able to appreciate the bigger picture. "You look around the stadium and there's 50,000 people wearing Canada jerseys. The young kids can now dream of representing Canada – and we did that." said the striker. "[Losing] stings, but in the grand scheme of things this tournament was a huge success."
Nor did it represent a final shot at glory for Sinclair, who immediately stated her desire to play on until the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, by which time she will be 36. In the meantime, her focus is firmly on this year’s Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, a competition in which Canada claimed bronze four years ago, having sealed her team's place with an impressive brace in last night's CONCACAF semi-final win over Costa Rica.
“The feeling never gets old," she said afterwards. "The joy on those youngsters’ faces knowing that they’re going to the Olympics for the first time, it’s no different than the face of a Rhian Wilkinson who’s going for her third. It’s an honour to represent your country at the Olympics and I hope we can do Canada proud again.”
And the fact that veterans of the 2002 U-20 Women’s World Cup will again provide the spine of the Canucks’ squad in Rio is, she believes, no accident.
“It's fantastic how many of us are still involved all these years later,” she said. “The likes of myself, Erin McLeod, Rhian Wilkinson, Diana Matheson and Brittany Timko essentially grew up together in the senior team since then. But it's important elsewhere too. You look at successful sides like USA and Germany and you can pretty much guarantee that all their players will have had experience of a U-20 World Cup.”
Even in those trophy-laden teams, few individuals can boast a career matching Sinclair’s. And as nets keep bulging and records keep falling, Canada’s peerless predator continues to cement her status as one of the women’s game’s true greats.