Sinclair: I’d give all my goals for the world title

As any visitor to the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ will tell you, Christine Sinclair’s face is everywhere you go, popping up on the tournament’s promotional posters, TV adverts and on the cameras and phones of the fans who pounce on the local idol to have their photo taken with her. There can be no doubt about it: Christine Sinclair is a veritable legend in this part of the world.

That status is founded on two things: her staggering record of more than 150 goals in over 220 international appearances, making her one of the most prolific markswomen in the game, and her easy-going, endearing nature. caught up with the hugely popular Canada striker in the build-up to the host side’s quarter-final against England in Vancouver on Saturday.**:** playing in the FIFA Women’s World Cup on home soil must be one of the high points of your career to date. Is it just as you pictured? Christine Sinclair: Not really. Everything’s bigger than we thought it would be. The whole build-up before the opening match was more stressful than we’d imagined. There was more pressure than any of us could possibly have thought. It’s increased bit by bit the more the tournament’s gone on, and it’s got more and more intense. Our coaching staff did a fantastic job in the lead-up to the tournament, getting us ready for that first match, though there’s a whole part of this experience that nothing can prepare you for.

You’re a role model in the game, the kind of player that parents dream of their children becoming. Is that too much of a responsibility for someone whose job is just to play football? It is a heavy responsibility but it’s also a privilege. When I started playing, I didn’t watch women’s sport that much. All my sporting heroes were men. It’s good to see that times have changed, that young girls who want to play sport can look up to female players and dream of having a career in football, and can dream of being the next Melissa Tancredi, Erin McLeod or Christine Sinclair. It’s a big responsibility and I’m trying to shoulder it like a good Canadian, wearing the jersey with pride and honour and trying to set an example off the pitch every day.

You were 18 when Even Pellerud, the Canada coach at the time, described you as the best player in the world, a view that’s still held by your team-mates, your current coach and opposing players 13 years on. Has that tag put any added pressure on you? I don’t really know what to make of things like that. I was very young when Even said that and I didn’t understand why. I was still a kid, and all I was thinking about was whether I deserved my place in the national team. But if people thought that at the time and they’re still saying it 13 years later, then it’s a nice thing to hear. I don’t know if I deserve those kinds of compliments. I just keep telling myself that I’m so so lucky. I’ve never been injured, I’ve had some great coaches and some amazing team-mates. And I’ve always had that fire inside me, that passion and desire to do everything I can to help my team win.

You’ve scored countless goals in your career. Were you always destined to be a striker? I can honestly say that scoring goals is not the reason why I play the game. I started out for the simple reason that I loved playing football with my friends and that feeling hasn’t changed. Obviously, there’s more pressure now and the standard is higher, but the reason why I play is still the same. It’s true that I’ve always been a striker, though. I don’t know why, but my mother, who was my first coach, put me up front and it looks like she got that right (laughs).

Former Italy striker Filippo Inzaghi once said that the goals he scored were like his children, that he remembered and loved each and every one of them. Do you feel the same way about yours? Absolutely not. I remember some of the big moments in my career, but I’ve forgotten most of the goals I’ve scored. That’s just part of the game. I don’t think midfielders remember all the passes they play, goalkeepers all the saves they make, and defenders all their tackles. I just see my goals as part of the game.

I’m always the same on and off the pitch, but when I’m out there playing, I have this sense of self-confidence, especially in this team.

Let’s test your memory: what’s the first goal you remember scoring? (Pauses) The first thing that comes to mind is that we used to play an indoor tournament at the BC Place Stadium in Vancouver every winter. It’s interesting that I’m thinking about that. I can recall scoring a goal in one of those tournaments. I must have been about eight and I must have scored a few goals before that one, but that’s the first I remember.

And what’s the best goal you’ve scored to date? That was in Brazil in 2010, in a warm-up tournament for the World Cup in 2011. It was in the final, against Brazil. We were losing, we’d had a player sent off and I was feeling tired. The ball was on the right side, one of our forwards lost possession and it came to me. I was a long way out, about 25 metres, and to one side of the goal, but I just thought: ‘I have to hit it’. So I tried my luck with my left foot, gave it all I had, and it flew into the far top corner. You can see it on YouTube (laughs).

And what’s the most important goal of your career so far? There are two. The first came at college, in the national league play-off final. We still had golden goals then, and the game had gone to extra-time. The goal came from a cross and though there wasn’t anything particularly special about it, it gave us the league title in what turned out to be our coach Clive Charles’ last match. He died of cancer a few months later. The second came against China in the opening match of this World Cup. There was a huge amount of pressure and it was a crucial game because it was vital to our chances of qualifying from the group. It was probably the most stressful goal of my career.

Canada coach John Herdman said you were born to score at times like that. Are you as assured on the pitch as you are calm and laid-back off it? I’m always the same on and off the pitch, but when I’m out there playing, I have this sense of self-confidence, especially in this team. If there’s a penalty in the 90th minute of a World Cup match, then I’ll take it. That’s the way it is. There’s no debate about it. I’m not looking to be in the limelight, but there’s a part of me that says I won’t be at peace with myself if I don’t take that responsibility. I can’t let a young player step up and take that kind of responsibility. Missing a penalty in a World Cup can break a person or a career, so when you’ve got the experience that I have, it’s only normal that I should take that responsibility. And so I take the penalty. That’s just the way it is, the way it has to be.

There was also a game in which you broke your nose yet carried on playing and scored a goal. Is that typical of your character on the pitch? Oh yeah, I did that too (laughs). It was the opening match of the last World Cup against  Germany, when I scored from a free-kick. There were 70,000 fans at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin and we managed to silence them for a few minutes. Even though I was injured, if there was the slightest chance of me getting back on the pitch, I was going to take it. It’s the World Cup and it only comes round once every four years. As far as I was concerned, coming off was not an option. I was like: ‘OK, my nose is still there. I can carry on’. The coaching staff thought it was dangerous, but I promised them I wouldn’t take another knock.

You scored a hat-trick in the 4-3 defeat to USA in the semi-finals of the Women's Olympic Football Tournament London 2012. Would scoring another goal in that game have changed your career? Yes and no. The way the match turned out (Canada led 3-1, with USA equalising with ten minutes remaining and going on to score the winner in stoppage time in extra time), another goal would have come in handy. On the other hand, though, if we are where we are today, then it’s perhaps down to that game. That was the day the nation fell in love with us and really started to get behind us.

Is there one thing you would give all your goals for? Winning this World Cup, of course. I’m ready to give all my goals for that and to never score another.

What would be your ideal goal, the one you’ve dreamed of scoring? The dream goal would be more a question of where and when it was scored than how. The perfect setting would be the final of this World Cup against the Americans, and it wouldn’t matter how the ball goes in.

Do you remember scoring five goals in a FIFA tournament? Absolutely. It was in Edmonton in the U-19 World Championships, the quarter-finals against England. It would be great to score another five goals this time (laughs). A match like that comes round once in your career. I don’t remember the game that well, or all the goals, but I do remember how I felt after getting the first two. I knew it was a special day, a day when absolutely everything went right, no matter what I did.

Alex Scott, Laura Bassett and Fara Williams won’t have forgotten it, that’s for sure. They were in the England team that day. Really? They were there? I can’t remember that at all. That’s great. I’m going to remind them (laughs).