Even Pellerud moving on after shaping soccer team
Published Friday, August 15, 2008 2:53PM EDT
SHANGHAI, China - In the final moments of his last game as head coach of the Canadian women's soccer team Even Pellerud stood at the bench, collar open on his white shirt, eyes focused on the play.
His expression was hard to read.
After the heart-breaking 2-1 loss to U.S. Pellerud briefly put his arm around captain Christine Sinclair's shoulder.
It was classic Pellerud. The tactician to the end. A hint of emotion after.
The loss in Friday's quarter-final not only eliminated the women from the Summer Olympic tournament, it also signalled the end of Pellerud's tenure. He announced earlier in the summer he planned to leave after the Games following nine years with the team.
With Pellerud moving on, and some of the players likely to retire, it's difficult to predict the future of the women's soccer program. But Pellerud's influence was the catalyst for the team evolving from a rambling amateur program to a smoothly operating professional group.
"He's done so much for this program," said Sinclair, who scored Canada's lone goal against the U.S. "He's changed all our lives.
"We wanted him to leave this program with a medal around his neck. We came up a bit short."
Some people might have used their final game to wax poetic about their career, reminisce, maybe even climb on a soap box.
Not Pellerud. It was about the team, not about him.
"My feeling is more general disappointment over not playing a better game," he said. "I think this was a game we should have beaten the USA. I feel we had more in us."
Gently prodded, Pellerud opened the door ever so slightly on the human inside.
"It has been a wonderful nine years for me and my family and the program," he said. "There has been continual development of the team and for women's soccer in Canada. "
If Pellerud didn't want to talk about what he'd accomplished, the players did.
"He turned it into a competitive, professional-feeling team," said midfielder Diana Matheson. "Before that, it was just sporadic camps a couple of times a year."
Goaltender Erin McLeod, who left Friday's game with a knee injury, said Pellerud built a system to develop young players.
He also persuaded Greg Kerfoot, a reclusive Vancouver billionaire, to establish a residency program where players were paid a salary, which allowed them to live and train in Vancouver.
"The money he has gotten us," said McLeod. "We've been able to have a full-time job with this team. He's really paved the way for the next coach coming in."
The residency program also ended with the Olympics.
With Pellerud as coach the women's team advanced to the Olympics for the first time. They also finished fourth at the 2003 World Cup
The team is ranked No. 9 in the world and its games are shown on national television.
But the highs have been matched by lows.
Canada was expected to qualify for the 2004 Athens Games but was upset by Mexico in a qualifying tournament. The women finished an unimpressive third at last summer's Pan American Games where the players complained about going into the tournament tired from over training.
The team went into last fall's World Cup with high hopes but failed to advance out of the qualifying round.
Pellerud has his critics.
Jason DeVos, a former men's national team member who has been working as a television analyst, said Pellerud's methods are outdated.
Instead of playing a kick-and-run style, the women should play a more possession-focused game, said DeVos.
Pellerud was blunt in his reply.
"He can start to look at my record," he snapped.
Sinclair was more acid.
"The men's team is not at the Olympics," she said. "It's a shame to hear men's players saying that when they are no where."
Pellerud, 55, is a stocky man with greying hair and piercing eyes that can blaze fire when he's angry. His thick Norwegian accent makes him hard to understand sometimes but he has a dry sense of humour.
"You wouldn't know it just seeing him but he's absolutely hilarious," said Sinclair. "He has us cracking up every day.
"Part of that is his English isn't the best."
Last fall Pellerud was thrilled about taking a vacation to Cuba and admitted an admiration for Fidel Castro.
When mad, Pellerud can wither a person with his stare and lash them with a sharp tongue. On the pitch he is very intense and has a temper that has resulted in him being ejected from matches.
His habit of speaking his mind has led to clashes with the Canadian Soccer Association.
He criticized the CSA for turning down a chance to host the Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria because it couldn't afford the estimated $400,000 to put on the event.
After the World Cup, Pellerud said the CSA should have spent more money to allow the women's team to play more international games in the run-up to the event.
Pellerud also found himself in an ugly dispute with one of the team's icons.
He suspended former captain Charmaine Hooper, plus defender Sharolta Nonen and forward Christine Latham last fall when they failed to attend a training camp in Newfoundland and play in an exhibition series against China.
The three complained to the Sports Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada, but an arbitrator ruled Pellerud was justified in his actions. Players on the team sided with Pellerud.
As a young player in Norway Pellerud played for Vlerenga Oslo and Kongsvinger. He earned one cap with Norway's Olympic team in 1983.
He coached Norway to the women's World Cup championship in 1995 and to a bronze medal at the 1996 Olympic Games. He holds the women's World Cup record for 21 matches coached.
Pellerud took of the Canadian team in 1999 after a poor performance in the World Cup. He instituted pride and a sense of purpose to the team.
Pellerud's contract ends in December. He says he has no idea what he will do next.
The CSA will put together a selection committee to choose the next coach.
Goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc said it will be strange having someone else sitting on the bench.
"I don't even know how to put into words what Even has meant for this program and Canadian women's soccer and to me," she said. "He's inspired me and pushed me.
"It's going to be tough to think about playing and not having Even here."