On Monday June 2, 2008, Even Pellerud announced his retirement as Canada's senior women’s head coach, effective at year's end, when his contract expires. During eight years at the helm, Pellerud has guided the national program to unparalleled success, including a fourth place finish at the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup — particularly impressive since Canada had not won a game in two previous WWC appearances. Canada will also participate in this summer’s Olympics for the first time ever.
Pellerud has an overall W–T–L mark with the senior team of 61–19–41. As technical director, he was also involved in Canada finishing second at the inaugural 2003 FIFA U-19 World Championship (now U-20 Women’s World Cup), when coach, Ian Bridge, guided the teenagers to a narrow 1–0 overtime final defeat in front of almost 50,000 people, at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium. Many of the leaders of that team, such as Kara Lang, Erin McLeod, Christine Sinclair and Brittany Timko, are now stalwarts on the senior squad. Canada qualified for the subsequent two U-20 World Cups and is attempting this summer to qualify for both the U-20 World Cup in Chile and the inaugural U-17 World Cup in New Zealand.
WFP caught up with Pellerud just before Canada left for Seoul Korea for the eight-team Peace Queen Cup tournament. Pellerud said he would eventually return to his native Norway but might stay in Canada for a while after his contract ends, possibly up to a year.
Pellerud stressed that he is not retiring from football and would consider another national position, a club post or even a position as a consultant to countries which are just starting to develop women’s soccer. Pellerud will even consider an assistant coaching position, since he has been a head coach for so long (including previous positions with Norway and Denmark). Pellerud indicated that he was open to working with men or women.
The Norwegian native guided his country to a Women’s World Cup title in 1995 after a runner-up spot in 1991, but had coached at the men’s club level in Norway and Denmark before taking the Canadian post. He said he was flexible and very interested to see what offers would come his way.
Pellerud addressed some specific questions on the development of youth football, the state of Canada's national program, the women’s game, globally, and finally, his legacy...
WFP: You are known for your encouragement of young players with the senior national team. Was that part of your plan when you first arrived?
EP: “I had no special thoughts when I came to Canada. I coach what I see. [Within] the current base that I inherited, I didn’t see the talent or commitment [I needed] so I was really forced to look to younger players. I started youth teams and put together a national coaching staff to develop them. The 2003 FIFA U-19 tournament reinforced the process and linked well together. But I was really forced into it. We had a good base of the 1983–1984 age group that is now the core group of the current national team. They have matured well.”
WFP: What does Canada need, to continue to build on its past successes?
EP: “We need better plans for the women’s program. We need defined national team program goals and clearer action plans. We need stronger leadership from the top. We need a league structure and better leagues [at all age levels]…. A Canadian team in Women’s Professional Soccer (which will start in seven US cities in 2009) would be helpful. We have succeeded in spite of not having these.”
WFP: What is needed in other countries, such as in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, that are further behind in developing the game than Canada is?
EP: “Patience is the right word. CONCACAF had lots of progress this year in the Olympic Qualifying over four years ago. The quality of the teams was better. They were more competitive…. The same applies to African, South American teams and [even European nations like] Spain. A gender issue will be there but the soccer movement for women is unstoppable.”
WFP: Reflecting on your eight years with Canada, what are you most proud of?
EP: “I have a really good feeling on the development of soccer: Soccer is the number one sport for Canadian girls and women. Females have an amazing interest in the sport. Canada’s women’s have higher status than the men. The biggest thing is still in front of us — the Olympics. The biggest moment for me [working in Canada] was qualifying for the first time. Hopefully we can finish well.”
Even Pellerud’s vision, coaching acumen, preparation and positive personality woke up a moribund program in 1999 and achieved stunning success in a short period of time. The Canadian Soccer Association must continue to build on the structures and philosophy that Pellerud brought to Canada. Future funding and support must be directed not only to the national teams but for all female football programs across the country. Canada was fortunate to have one of the premier global proponents for women and girls football for the past eight years. He will be missed and wished the best in his future endeavors.