TORONTO — Bev Priestman, who spent five years developing talent for the Canadian women’s soccer program and served as an assistant coach to John Herdman, is returning to take over the Canada women’s team.
The English native succeeds head coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller, who announced in June he was stepping down at summer’s end to return to the Danish Football Association as head of coach education.
At 34, Priestman is three years younger than captain Christine Sinclair, the world’s all-time international goal-scorer.
Priestman starts Nov. 1, with a contract that covers the next quadrennial, but is not expected to make the move to Canada with her family until the first quarter of 2021.
She left Canada Soccer in the summer of 2018 to serve as Phil Neville’s No. 2 with the English women’s team. Neville and Priestman guided the Lionesses, currently ranked sixth in the world, to fourth place at last summer’s World Cup in France. England was beaten in the third-place playoff by Sweden, which had eliminated Canada in the round of 16.
Neville is stepping down as England coach next year, with Sarina Wiegman set to take over after leading the Dutch women at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics.
For Priestman, the Canada job is an opportunity to return to a place full of good memories on and off the field — she got married in Canada and her two-year-old son was born here — and to run her own show.
“When I went to England, I always said from Day 1 that I wanted to be a No. 1,” she told The Canadian Press. “And so this is part of that jigsaw piece.
“For me, it’s a top-10 nation, two (Olympic) bronze medals, the scrutiny and expectations you get with that. What I’ve learned about myself is probably you get the best out of me in those moments.”
Canada Soccer president Steven Reed said Priestman’s first stint with the organization, from 2013 to 2018, “set a solid foundation for success across all levels of the women’s national team program and we are excited to have her bring her recent experience, vision and leadership to her new role.”
Priestman made the move to England, nine weeks after her son was born, to further forge her own path.
“In my opinion I’ve worked under two to three world-class coaches now,” she said. “I’ve had the best seat in the house really … All those highs and then the lows. You take something from every coach and every moment and then you start to become clearer about what you believe in and what you think it takes to win.”
Most recently, Priestman served as coach of England’s women’s under-18 team slated to compete at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in India, rescheduled for next year due to the global pandemic.
She said that move had “sharpened myself up again to whatever may come in the future.”
“For me the timing was actually perfect … I definitely feel now is the right time,” she said of the Canadian job.
Priestman faces a short runway, with the Tokyo Games set to start in July. The Canadian women, ranked eighth in the world, have been inactive since March 10 when they wrapped up play at a tournament in France with a 2-2 tie with Brazil.
A Canadian camp scheduled for this month in England was scrapped on the advice of health experts.
Looking at the current Canadian roster, Priestman sees a “brilliant blend of experience and youth.” She knows there is little room to manoeuvre short-term with COVID-19 restrictions, not to mention the limitations of an 18-woman Olympic roster.
“You have a short-term focus due to COVID and the Olympics and hopefully change the colour of the medal. And then you have a longer-term focus.”
That includes a changing of the guard.
“My job is to make that transition really easy with the young players and get that blend right at the right time.”
Priestman has been following the Canadian women, including the growing number playing in Europe. Janine Beckie, Jessie Fleming, Shelina Zadorsky, Adriana Leon and Rylee Foster are currently playing in England in the Barclays FA Super Women’s League while Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence, Jordyn Huitema and Quinn (who goes by one name) are among those playing in France and other European leagues.
“There’s some benefits to being based in Europe short-term,” said Priestman.
Priestman grew up southwest of Newcastle in Consett, which is also Herdman’s hometown. Priestman was 12 or 13 when first coached by Herdman. She started helping out at Herdman’s Brazilian soccer school, kicking off a coaching relationship that eventually took both to New Zealand and then Canada.
In her first stint with Canada Soccer, Priestman served as national EXCEL director from under-15 to under-23 and coached Canadian teams at two FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cups, three CONCACAF Women’s Under-17 Championships as well as the CONCACAF Under-15 and Under-20 Championships.
Under Priestman’s tutelage, Canadian players like Fleming, Huitema and Deanne Rose have made their mark on the international scene.
Priestman also served as Herdman’s assistant coach at the 2015 World Cup (sixth place), the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship (second place), and the 2016 Rio Olympics (bronze medal).
Priestman plans to make her home in Vancouver with wife Emma Humphries and their son Jack. Humphries, a former New Zealand international who is a UEFA A Licence coach, has been working as a coach with the Liverpool’s women’s team.
Humphries previously worked for the Vancouver Whitecaps as girls director and head coach overseeing the academy program.
Priestman worked for Everton, under respected coach Mo Marley, and England’s Football Association before going to New Zealand, rising to head of New Zealand Football development before coming to Canada. She has a bachelor’s degree in science and football, from Liverpool John Moores University.
She has completed her UEFA A Diploma (coaching award) and is currently a UEFA PRO Licence candidate.
Heiner-Moller, who took over the women’s team when Herdman shifted to run the men’s program in January 2018, left with a record of 20-10-5.