The legacy of Christine Sinclair, soccer's greatest-ever goal scorer

Published on: 07 December 2023

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So much must go right for a player to be able to decide their last game is indeed their last game.

The exception rather than the rule, a chance to exit on your own terms and truly be celebrated sometimes isn't even afforded to the greats. But Canada legend Christine Sinclair is one such exception at the end of a career that has defied all expectations.

The world's greatest international scorer took her bow in a 1-0 victory over Australia on Tuesday with 331 caps and 190 goals to her name. She put in a 58-minute shift before making way for fellow retiring legend Sophie Schmidt.

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Sinclair soaked up the applause of the 48,112-strong crowd, and accepted hugs and adoration from teammates and opponents alike at Vancouver's BC Place -- rebranded "Christine Sinclair Place" for the night. In terms of farewells, the only way it could have gone better was if she had scored.

Sinclair's retirement is the latest in a string of departures from the women's game that emphasize a changing of the guard globally. She debuted as a 16-year-old in 2000 and immediately began scoring while wearing her beloved No. 12 -- picked in honor of her favourite athlete growing up, Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Roberto Alomar.

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The choice speaks to the time: A football role model was hard to come by, let alone a woman.

Sinclair was often the best player in a Canada team that was nowhere near the picture of consistency it has been in the past decade. Before two bronze medals, and the eventual gold at the Tokyo Olympics, the first decade of Sinclair's national team career was hidden in the shadows. That didn't stop her from scoring 90 goals between the ages of 16 and 24.

As Canada improved, Sinclair continued to shine. The only difference was more people saw her.

In the weeks since the announcement of her retirement, teammates, opponents, famous admirers, and regular fans alike have shared what Sinclair means to them. Each has revealed a little truth about the player and person she is. Perhaps no story was as emblematic of the 40-year-old as her own actions pregame.

With the spotlight placed firmly on Sinclair, you wouldn't necessarily have known that Tuesday's game also celebrated two other retiring Canada legends: Schmidt and Erin McLeod. While the rest of her teammates wore t-shirts bearing her name and GOAT, Sinclair wore Schmidt's jersey.

It shouldn't come as a surprise. Sinclair hates the attention but, more than that, she knows her teammates also deserve the recognition for their contributions to Canadian soccer.

She's quiet and unassuming but with none of the negative connotations that come with players who are described as such. Not much is known about her personal life by design, but there is no indication that she is somehow boring and plain because of it. She's just Christine. She plays football. She scores goals. She loves Canada. And she has done, and will continue to do, anything to see the game succeed in her home.

Christine Sinclair's illustrious international career included 190 goals for Canada in 331 games, an Olympic gold medal and six World Cup appearances. Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images for Football Australia

Former Canada teammate Rhian Wilkinson told TSN that Sinclair said, when she asked how she scored so often, that she simply put the ball where the goalkeeper wasn't. Deceptively simple. Often spectacular. No nonsense. Ever effective. Deeply caring. As her career comes to a close and her exploits age, she may well earn even more recognition.

It is perhaps underestimated just how astounding Sinclair's numbers are: A national team career spanning 24 years, 331 games and a world record 190 goals.

The longer her goal-scoring record stands -- assuming it is appropriately acknowledged when talking about the all-time leading international goal scorer without defaulting to men's football -- the more remarkable it will appear. And the record is already extraordinarily remarkable.

The next active player in the all-time leading international goal-scorer ranks is Jordan's women's star Maysa Jbarah. But she is still 57 goals behind Sinclair with 133 goals. Even the still-active legends in the twilight of their respective careers are well off the mark. Marta has 115. Cristiano Ronaldo, who hold the men's record, has 128. Lionel Messi has 106.

All are impressive but nowhere near Sinclair's numbers. Those who detract from her achievement seemingly can't see the forest for the trees.

In time, generations will be awestruck at the numbers, with the chances of them being repeated close to slim. How on earth could someone score that many times? How could someone achieve that kind of longevity? How did Sinclair manage to just keep scoring?

Sinclair's legacy is that she is arguably one of the final few women's players whose star won't be recognized to the full extent of her talent and achievements during her career.

But that will no longer be the case because of the way she forced her nation and the world to stand up and notice. A Canada lineup will look a little different without Sinclair but women's football in Canada and globally looks a lot better for having had her play, and advocate, and score and score and score.

Her involvement in the game will look a little different more as she continues to advocate for and work towards a first professional league for women. But she will not be lost to Canadian football. There will always be a little bit of Sinclair across the great white north. Just ask the kid joining their local football team picking the No. 12 to be just like Sinclair.

Source: espn.co.uk

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