Despite injury, Doneil Henry does his part off the pitch to help Canada at World Cup

Doneil Henry’s experience in the World Cup was very different from what he initially hoped for. But the veteran defenseman is doing everything he can for Canada.

Sidelined by a calf injury on the eve of the tournament, Henry is still with the Canadian team but in a non-playing role. He’s done everything from « a bit of tactical work on the computers » to taking the emotional pulse of his teammates.

« Just literally being a big brother, » he said in an interview. « Making sure everyone’s mood is good, making sure the energy within the team [is right] and obviously just pointing [out] defensive things that I think we can either work on or rectify, correct for the next game.

« Besides that, I just help where I’m needed. If that means helping with equipment or doing things on a technical level. Whatever is needed, I’ll do it. «

The 29-year-old from Brampton, Ont., has earned 44 caps for Canada and was set to add to that number on November 11 in Manama where he was set to captain Canada for the second time in a game pre-tournament friendly against Bahrain two days before coach John Herdman named his 26-man World Cup roster.

« I felt good all week, training well, » Henry recalled.

But he felt a « sharp pain » in his calf during the pre-match warm-up.

« I tried to stretch and keep going, but it just got worse and worse, » he said.

WATCH | Doneil Henry talks about the Canadian Men’s National Team brotherhood:

Canada Soccer’s Doneil Henry talks about Men’s National Team brotherhood heading to Qatar

Host Andi Petrillo sits down with Canadian centre-back Doneil Henry before he was ruled out of the World Cup through injury.

Putting your team before your dream

The initial diagnosis was that recovery would take up to 14 days, with Canada’s opener at the tournament on November 23 — 12 days later.

Henry chose to take his name off the World Cup, saying it was the right thing to do.

« The way I always see myself as a player is that I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m not looking for excuses. I always want to do it the right way, » Henry explained. “Even though I have been with this team for four years and believe in it, adhere to a system and a way of playing and the principle that we laid the foundation on, I knew there was players in this team who deserved it and who are ready to step onto the pitch to make sure they can give us the best chance of winning. »

That sacrifice drew a tribute from Herdman, who said watching Henry go down was one of the « toughest times of my career ».

« Doneil put the team first. We could have tried to get him back to play and have him later in the tournament. But he knew it was the right decision to make, to allow another player who had deserved this right and who was in great shape to come and take this opportunity, » the coach said at the time. « It was a great moment.

« It really shows courage and what that brotherhood is when a man can kind of ditch his shirt and take that step forward to support the team in a different role. »

It was not an easy decision to make. But Henry, who is a member of the Canadian team’s management group, says Herdman sold him in the emotional aftermath of the injury.

His message was simple.

« I can’t make you feel better for what you’re going through but you won’t feel better at home. And your boys need you here. So take the time you need. Make up your mind, but be sure sure you’re ready to help the boys, » Henry Herdman recalls telling her.

« The boys have been really good to me, » Henry added. « As much as they could use me, I need them. They have made this transition much more manageable for me here in Qatar. »

Loyalty is the key

Herdman has spoken constantly about Henry over the past few months, saying how important the centre-back is to the team. Henry returns the compliment.

« John is a loyal man. He’s always been good to his players. He’s always been very, very, very transparent with what he wants and what he believes in. »

At the World Cup, Henry watched Canada’s games from his perch on the bench.

“Looking sideways, my heart was racing the whole time,” he admitted. « I felt like I was on the pitch at times, I was so into the game.

« I left those two games very very proud of the boys because we left everything there. We gave it our all. And maybe another day we will get the result. Definitely positives to continue on to build. »

After losing 1-0 to 2nd-placed Belgium and 4-1 to 22nd-placed Croatia, the 41st-ranked Canadians conclude the tournament on Thursday against 22nd-placed Morocco.

As for the calf, Henry reports that it is improving day by day.

« The staff have been amazing in stepping up and making sure I get back to a good place, get back to training and prepare me well for the next stage. »

He doesn’t know exactly where it will be. Henry is out of contract with Toronto FC, which brought him back in July for a second stint after being waived by Los Angeles FC.

Henry also spent time with South Korea’s Suwon Bluewings, Vancouver Whitecaps, Ottawa Fury, Norway’s AC Horsens and England’s West Ham and Blackburn.

He has family support in Qatar with his parents and his sister as well as his girlfriend.

Henry has been a mainstay for Canada, appearing in two World Cup qualifying rounds and three Gold Cups. He captained Canada for the first time in October 2021.

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