Karina LeBlanc played over 100 games as Canada goalkeeper
The Olympic Bronze medallist now works as Head of Concacaf Women's Football
"I think it’s the best position on the field"
Women's football is going from strength to strength and it is thanks to positive forces like Karina LeBlanc that that is the reality. LeBlanc was an accomplished goalkeeper during her club and national team career but has now made it her career's mission to continue growing the women's game.
She serves as the Head of Concacaf Women's Football as well as holding other developmental roles, including being a FIFA Legend, an ambassadorial position geared towards empowering young girls and women to get involved with football.
With the announcement of two new awards for The Best FIFA Football Awards 2019, to be held on 23 September in Milan—the Women's Best XI and The Best Goalkeeper in Women's Football—who better placed to speak of the significance of the announcement?
FIFA.com caught up with the former Canada international goalkeeper to talk about the new awards for women's football and many other aspects about what it means to be a goalkeeper.
FIFA.com: What does this mean for the women’s game? Karina LeBlanc: I think its huge, you’re continuing to see the game evolve. It’s going to be a challenge to pick a Best XI because I truly believe this World Cup is going to showcase the best players on the planet. I’m extremely excited with The Best Goalkeeper Award, and I am a little biased, but I think it’s the best position on the field. But for FIFA to take these steps, it really shows the direction we are going in the women’s game and the value they see in it. I think fans will be excited by this new announcement, as well as the players.
How much would it have encouraged you as a kid to see other women receiving these kinds of awards? It's huge because when I was growing up, all my heroes were men’s players, so now you are giving more exposure and celebrating amazing play and rewarding all the hard work. The little girl at home in any part of the world dreaming of being a goalkeeper will have this award as part of her goals, which is huge. I think, again, it comes down to what we are doing to inspire the next generation, and I think awards like this bring clarity to it. It also rewards players who need that award, which is awesome.
As a goalkeeper yourself, what does a keeper need to have to become the best in the world? Goalkeeping used to just be about shot-stopping, but you look at the game now and a goalkeeper maybe makes three or four saves in a game. Most of it is about leadership, it's about controlling the play and it’s about being that last line of defence and first of attack. The position is so much more complex than it used to be. You’re looking at a complete athlete who can do everything. It’s not just about using your hands but also about using your feet. But I think the biggest thing is to command a presence, and I think the best keepers in the world do that.
How important will the Women's World Cup be to define those awards but also The Best Player and Coach awards? Would you consider the event the final sprint of this race? I think what it’s doing is creating household names, sometimes within a country, but in a World Cup, globally. I think we are going to see some new faces you haven’t heard of, and we’re going to see some old faces shine again. But I think it’s the biggest stage for soccer and you’re going to see the best athletes go at it and see one of the best sporting events ever. It’s a time for players to show up and showcase who they are, which is exciting. There’s an immense amount of pressure, and for the ones that show up and are game changers, this is the perfect platform and they will be rewarded.
France is coming up fast. Who are the goalkeepers and players you are looking forward to watching the most? I’m looking forward to seeing the Jamaican team make that global splash to the world and show their charisma and what makes them special.
I think the best goalkeeper isn’t going to be the one everybody expects, and I say that because the game has evolved so much. Usually the ones that have standout performances are those that at some point carry the team. As we have seen in many big tournaments, goalkeeping is a position that tells you a lot about the future. As for The Best Goalkeeper, I haven’t pinpointed it. I think we will see a breakout goalkeeper over this tournament, but the final will have two world class goalkeepers, that’s for sure.