Published 10 September 2021 10 min read
England Women's Senior Team

Wiegman confident England can compete with the world's best

Written by:

Frank Smith

New head coach discusses her coaching style, footballing philosophy and hopes for the Lionesses

So what can Lionesses fans expect from Sarina Wiegman’s England?

To those who follow women’s football closely, they will know all about Wiegman – after all, this is coach who guided Netherlands to the women’s UEFA European Championships in 2017 and almost secured FIFA World Cup glory two years later.

You only need to glance at Wiegman’s resume to know she is one of the best head coaches in the world.

But to those who maybe know a little less about the former Netherlands international, what can they expect from a Wiegman-led England? What kind of coach is she? What style of football can fans expect? And what does she hope to achieve with this Lionesses team?

It was August last year when it was first confirmed Wiegman would be taking charge of the England women’s senior team but with the Olympic Games on the horizon, the 51 year old was keen to remain in position with the Netherlands and guide them in Tokyo.

In the end, the Dutch side exited on penalties at the quarter-finals stage against the United States, the side which also pipped them to World Cup glory two years earlier.

But Wiegman has had a transformative impact on the women’s game in Netherlands and leaves as the country’s most successful head coach, with back-to-back major finals and European victory on home soil in 2017.

Sarina Wiegman at Wembley Stadium earlier this week
Sarina Wiegman at Wembley Stadium earlier this week

Now, her Lionesses journey begins as she looks to repeat that feat with England, with the women’s European Championships being hosted on these shores next summer.

Wiegman’s first day on the job was 1 September and after a few days at St. George’s Park, she was among those attending the Emirates Stadium for Arsenal’s thrilling victory over Chelsea in the opening weekend of the Barclays FA Women’s Super League.

The 104-cap international had been in position for less than a week when she named her first England squad and then on Thursday – on day nine – it was time to address the media for the first time.

As someone who was keen to remain fully focused on her Dutch job throughout, Wiegman has yet to meet the players since taking over as head coach but will do so early next week when they convene at St. George’s Park, after another round of Barclays FA WSL action.

Wiegman will only be with the players a matter of days and then it will be time for her first match in charge, as the Lionesses start their 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign against North Macedonia at Southampton’s St. Mary’s Stadium, before a trip to Luxembourg four days later.

So what does Wiegman hope to achieve from her first England camp?

“Of course you go into the camp with two World Cup qualification matches so first of all we have to win those matches – that is the first goal,” Wiegman told EnglandFootball.com.

“Then we have to connect. I have seen the girls play but I have never worked with them so I am looking forward to getting to know them as human beings, because you are more than just a football player. I am really looking forward to that.

“And I want to get the connection. I have got the connection with the staff outside of the camp and now I want to get that connection with the staff in camp and then I want that connection with the players.

“The England team have done very well [in the past] and now we are just going to try to add something to their game hopefully and start playing with a [certain] style and some little adjustments.”

We’ve already touched upon Wiegman’s success as Netherlands coach but it is also their style of play which won her so many admirers and helped her pick up the FIFA’s Best Women’s Coach award twice out of the last four years.

When asked to explain her coaching philosophy and style of play, Wiegman explained: “If you watched the game between Arsenal and Chelsea recently, there was the passing game, they were trying to get into the pockets of space, playing forward and playing with depth.

“Whether you are talking about offensive play, attacking, defending, in transition, in those things you want to dominate. 

“We are playing against North Macedonia and Luxembourg in our first two games and we of course want to try to dominate the whole game and we should show a difference in level.

“We should be in possession most of the time and we want to keep their score to nil and we want to be dynamic, have a good possession game and try to score goals.

“When people talk about the Dutch (women’s national team) they think about the possession game, playing forward, getting overloads, having depth in the game in possession and that is what I would like to do with England too.”

Sarina Wiegman is excited to be underway
Sarina Wiegman is excited to be underway

Wiegman was a trailblazer for female coaches in the Netherlands. After becoming only the third Dutch woman to earn the UEFA Pro Licence in 2016, later that year she became the first woman to coach a men’s professional club in her homeland following a season-long spell as an assistant with Sparta Rotterdam.

Wiegman has never been afraid to push the boundaries, which was evident even as a child. Growing up in the 1970s, girls were banned from playing football with boys and with no girls teams close to her home in The Hague, she would cut her hair short so she could play in her brother’s team.

By the age of 16, she had been called up to the Netherlands national team and she became the country’s first women’s player to reach 100 caps.

With women’s football yet to go professional, Wiegman worked as a PE teacher during her playing days and then initially when coaching, before insisting she would only take over at ADO Den Haag in the newly formed Women’s Eredivisie if they made her full-time.

And as they say, the rest is history.

Wiegman believes becoming a PE teacher helped her develop organisation, communication and relationship-building skills and these are all key attributes in her coaching style even today.

Sarina Wiegman met the media at Wembley Stadium earlier this week
Sarina Wiegman met the media at Wembley Stadium earlier this week

She explained: “I am an organised coach and I like to have clarity around how we play. The players have to believe in that playing style so I am someone who speaks to players. You need to feel whether you are on the same page.

“Players are also human beings. So I like to be connected to them and then you get the best out of them. 

“I am someone who is a team player. When the staff cooperate really well, then the players can feel that and we can facilitate the players.

“I want to work on getting the team together and then develop a clear vision of how we want to play and how we want to show who we are to our fans.

“We have a plan for how we would like to reach that which will hopefully bring all that together.”

England women’s senior team have struggled to reproduce their best form in recent years but when it comes to major tournaments, have reached the semi-final stage of the last three major tournaments.

Wiegman explained how the Dutch national team were in a ‘different situation and different players’ to the England side, considering the group had been working together under the same coach for a number of years, but she is confident the Lionesses remain capable of competing for major honours in the future.

Wiegman, who has two teenage daughters and will be splitting her time between England and her native Netherlands, said: “This England team have been really close and made it to semi-finals in the past and been up there for a long time.

“We have been struggling in the last year, with different coaches - which was hard for them too and the team - so hopefully we can get that stability, get that continuity sustained and then get to a higher standard again and get back to that level I think the players can get to.

“First we have to qualify for the tournaments and then it is a case of getting the best we can out of it and I think we can compete with the best teams in the world.”

Wiegman continued: “It is a different situation and different players [to the Netherlands] but the English players are very good players, who are at another stage compared to Netherlands. But I hope with the players we have and the depth we have in the team that we can create a top, top environment, get the experienced players bringing along the younger players and see how fast they will develop, and I hope that over time, people will know when the England team play, when the Lionesses play, they would love to see our games and will enjoy our games.

“That starts at the beginning but we want to show an energetic game, show teamwork, show that we want to put so much effort into a game, have power and to fight, and all those ingredients which bring energy into the game. That then increases your chance of winning.

“We want to have a recognisable playing style, with energy, intensions, teamwork and fighting spirit.”

First up for Wiegman is a trip to the coast and Southampton’s St. Mary’s Stadium, when the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign gets underway against North Macedonia.

Tickets are available for as little as £15 for adults, £5 for concessions and £2.50 for children, and Wiegman can’t wait to meet the English supporters on Friday 17 September.

She said: “I am really excited and hopefully we can have lots of fans on the stands.

“Having fans in the ground brings so much energy. It is nice to get connected with the fans too.

“We will have had the connection with the FA, then the staff, the players and then get connected with the fans.

“For the players, they have not had the chance to play in front of fans for such a long time – England were so unlucky that most of their games got cancelled last year – so it is so nice to be playing again, on home soil, in front of fans, so we can all get connected again. It is so exciting.”

Tickets for North Macedonia