Priestman using SheBelieves Cup to get Canada on track for Tokyo

Sportsbeat
·3 min read
Bev Priestman, who was assistant coach to the Lionesses, became Canada's head coach in October

While there's uncertainty over who will replace Phil Neville in the Team GB women's football coaching chair at this summer's Olympics, his former right-hand woman Bev Priestman is already full steam ahead to Toyko, writes Rachel Steinberg.

In October, former England assistant and Durham native Priestman was appointed as Canada women’s national team head coach and she is not wasting a single second during a truncated lead-up to a Games already postponed once due to Covid-19.

With every game taking on added importance in a race against time, the 34-year-old views next month’s SheBelieves Cup - where the Canadians will face Brazil, Argentina and USA in Florida from February 18-24 - as a crucial test against top-tier competition.

“I have a six-month journey to an Olympic Games instead of 9, 12, 18 months,” Priestman said. “So, I think we have to absolutely go straight to some of the areas we need to address.

“We have to use the tournament for what it is. We have to go in and apply some things that we want to apply for the Olympic Games.

“We don’t have the time to wait around much.”

Priestman served as the Lionesses’ assistant coach from 2018 until 2020—and was briefly in charge of the women’s under-18s—before she was lured back across the pond.

This will be a second time sporting the maple leaf at the Olympics for the woman born and raised in Consett, county Durham, having previously helped guide the team to bronze at Rio 2016 as an assistant coach.

And though she’s spent more than five years coaching in the Canadian system, Priestman still occasionally slips up, at one point referring to England as “we” before smiling and saying: “I say ‘we’, [I mean] England.

Priestman was full of praise for Rhian Wilkinson, the former Canadian international who recently signed a short-term contract to assist interim England boss Hege Riise, who is hosting a training camp next month.

With Sarina Wiegman set to take the Lionesses helm post-Olympics, the FA will look to decide who will lead Team GB in Tokyo after the February camp.

Wilkinson was part of Canada’s squad in Rio and earned 181 caps during her career before turning to coaching.

She worked closely with Priestman in Canada, where she served as an assistant coach before getting the call from the Lionesses.

And Priestman was thrilled to see the FA take a chance on her friend - stressing the importance of creating a pipeline for talented coaches to develop their skills.

She said: “For people to get better, just like a player, they have to go and experience those new cultures, which is what Rhian’s going to do, and we have to celebrate that.”

England haven’t played a game since last year’s SheBelieves Cup and with concerns around the pandemic, they opted out of the 2021 iteration—the first time in the competition’s six-year history they won’t participate.

It’s opened the door for Canada to make their Cup debut against Brazil, Argentina and arch-rivals USA.

Priestman’s training camp roster includes Manchester City forward Janine Beckie, Spurs defender Shelina Zadorsky and Chelsea midfielder Jessie Fleming.

She added: “[The pandemic] has provided me the opportunity to actually breathe, sit down and assess.

“I already get a sense of real hunger, desire, excitement for the group to get back together.

“It’s a chance to see that there’s hope in the world that we’re living in.”