I follow every team, but when I come in I have to find out what the players think about what I’d like to add. It’s also about how you play and I have a framework of how I’d like to play. I can add some things but I think England already has part of that framework.Sarina Wiegman
[dropcap]N[/dropcap]etherlands head coach Sarina Wiegman says she was on the “same level” as the FA after conversations with Sue Campbell about becoming the new England head coach. Wiegman, winner of Euro 2017 and runner-up at the 2019 World Cup with her home nation, was confirmed last week as the replacement for current Lionesses head coach Phil Neville after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, said it was an easy decision when speaking to the English media for the first time on Wednesday.
“England is the cradle of football” said Wiegman. “They’ve done really well, there is great potential there. They have a professional league, so many talented players, great facilities, and it’s a real challenge for me to make that move. I was triggered when I first started talking to Sue Campbell.
“I love the game. I have the nicest job you can think of and when you work with talented and ambitious people, I like that. When I spoke to Sue, we were on the same level very quickly.”
When Wiegman moves to her new role when her contract starts in September 2021, she will have a mere 10 months to prepare for England’s home European Championships where she will hope to recreate the success she enjoyed on home soil with the Dutch three years ago.
With the COVID-19 pandemic throwing up a tight schedule that will see the next World Cup take place the following summer, Wiegman says the new schedule was part of what made her take the job and she hopes the experience she has from 2017 can help her when it comes to 2022.
“I went through that process with the national team of the Netherlands and I have that experience. I hope that experience can help going into 2022 with the staff and with the players because I experienced it here in this country, the challenges you have, but also the opportunities it gives.
“That is the part of the job that makes it so exciting — playing tournaments. Most people don’t see what you do to get there. There’s a lot of effort, a lot of hard work, and a lot of choices you have to make for the players.”
While recent results under Neville pre-COVID put pressure on the current head coach, Wiegman admitted she has been able to see from afar the evolution of the England team in terms of playing style since beating them 3–0 in the Euro 2017 semifinal, which was Mark Sampson’s penultimate game in charge.
With Neville trying to enforce a more possession-based style on the team, Wiegman hopes the foundations he has laid will make it easier for the team to adapt to her own style when she takes over next year.
“Women’s football around the world is improving so much and England is included in that,” she said. “I think at the Euros in 2017 they tried to play a lot of long balls and now they play much more possession-football, that is the biggest change I have seen over the last few years since 2017.
“England has a very strong team already but what I’d like to do is to add something. I follow every team, but when I come in I have to find out what the players think about what I’d like to add. It’s also about how you play and I have a framework of how I’d like to play. I can add some things but I think England already has part of that framework.”
Wiegman, though, was keen to distance herself from becoming too involved before her contract starts in September next year, reaffirming her commitment to the Netherlands’ own Olympic hopes where she could come head-to-head with her new players should Team GB end up facing the Dutch in Tokyo.
“Phil has the responsibility for the upcoming 12 months and I absolutely respect that. I’ll get some information in the background, but the last thing I want to do is to interfere with his work. I will have a close look because I come in in 2021, but now my responsibility and my main focus is the Dutch national team.”
England Talent Pool
The 50-year-old did admit the talent England has to offer on the pitch is something that excites her ahead of a four-year stint in the job which will take her through to the 2025 European Championships.
With many youngsters already part of the squad and others waiting in the wings, Wiegman will be the coach who will get to harness and develop so many of them and she admitted she was aware of the level of young talents who would be at her disposal.
“The depth in the women’s game in England is great. There are so many great players and so many great youngsters, some I saw in the Under-20 World Cup in 2018, and of course even younger players behind them.
“In the future I will get more and more information about them. There is great potential there. The structure, the competition, the player pathway is all there.”
Looking at her more experienced players, Wiegman will have access to players whose talent has seen them play all around Europe, with four England players currently at European champions Olympique Lyon, Rachel Daly playing with the Houston Dash in the National Women’s Soccer League, and Toni Duggan at Spanish giants Atlético Madrid.
While Wiegman’s Dutch team developed at a vast pace due to so many players heading abroad, including the FA Women’s Super League, Wiegman accepts it’s a different situation given the development of the English game and she would always leave the decision on where to play their football up to the players.
“It’s two different situations. In the Netherlands our league is still progressing. We have some professional teams, but also some who aren’t and the English competition is of a very high standard and a world-class competition where players want to play.
“As a coach, you can’t tell players what to do. They have opportunities to play at good clubs and it’s their career, their lives. If they come to me I would ask, ‘Where do you think you can develop the most?’ and think about how can I help them? In England, the league is very strong, so it’s good for them to play in England, but around Europe the competitions are improving all the time too.”
Wiegman admitted she hasn’t yet spoken to any of her new players, stating it wouldn’t be “fair or polite” to do so, and her only contact with England has been those at the FA who she discussed the potential new role with, including Sue Campbell, the FA’s Director of Women’s Football.
Ahead of the media call, Campbell described Wiegman as “steely” and said she was a “people’s person,” an attribute which Campbell admitted was one of the biggest draws to the FA, making her their number one target where she was said to be the “outstanding candidate” throughout the application process.
While Wiegman’s level of contact with people within the England camp has so far been limited, she did say she’d spoken to those closest to her about the opportunity to experience a new challenge.
“I speak to people around me who know me and of course we have some players who play in the FA WSL. Inside the FA, I didn’t speak to anyone apart from the people I spoke to about the job. I spoke to people I know who have worked abroad but I didn’t really speak to anyone outside of that.”
[dropcap]B[/dropcap]y the time Wiegman takes over the role in just over a year’s time, there’s every possibility she could have faced many of her new players at the Olympics next year, which both the Netherlands and Team GB [via England’s performances] qualified for at last summer’s World Cup.
Wiegman, however, showed no thought for Team GB’s chances should the two sides meet at any stage during the tournament, even the final, and once again reaffirmed all her efforts right now are on ensuring one final success with her home nation.
“I would be really happy to get to the final, so we already have a gold or a silver medal,” she said. “I’m in charge of the Netherlands, so I’ll do everything to win that game because it would be so special for me and my players. We want to win every game we play, whoever it is against.”
Should either side wish to come back from Tokyo with a gold medal around their necks, they will likely have to get past current double world champions the United States.
Under previous head coach Jill Ellis, the U.S. knocked out both England and the Netherlands at last summer’s World Cup in the semifinal and final, respectively, but Wiegman believes she will have every chance of dethroning current U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovki’s side with England and believes Europe is constantly closing the gap to the world champions.
“Yes, I think so. The history of the U.S. is awesome, but I think other countries can beat them, of course. It’s one game. In Europe, the game is improving so much that I think we get closer and closer and I think the USA knows that, so they have to improve their game too.
“I think other countries, not only England, but France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and of course, the Netherlands, are getting closer and closer.”