On Wednesday Sarina Wiegman was unveiled as Phil Neville’s successor to the national press via a Zoom conference and I was fortunate enough to be there for Since 71 and to sit amongst some of the best women’s football journalists in the country.
First up was the FA’s Chief Executive, Mark Bullingham. He described that the FA are “delighted” to welcome Sarina into her new role as England manager and added that they feel she is “one of the best coaches in the world” and despite a high number of “high calibre applicants” she was the FA’s unanimous first choice.
Director of Women’s Football, Baroness Sue Campbell, was next up and appeared to be having some technical issues as she was present on the video conference but speaking with her mobile phone pressed up to her ear. Sue described two of the main reasons for Sarina being the unanimous choice for the FA panel, “Sarina is a people person, she is easy to talk to and very caring. In her interview, she made it very clear that she places great importance on building the right relationships with the players and the support team. For Sarina, people matter.”
“The second attribute is that Sarina is a winner. She pays enormous attention to detail, whether that be planning for a game or looking at player insight. We know she will provide honest feedback and that she will make those tough decisions when they have to be made.”
When it was time for the guest of honour to take centre stage she greeted everyone kindy and explained that she hoped to build a “strong relationship with the media” and that she was “delighted and honoured” to be named the England Manager. In what must be a tricky situation for Sarina, she stated early on that she is still the coach of the Dutch national team through to the Olympics and this will be her main focus. This was a recurring theme throughout the press conference with Sarina clearly conscious of not disrespecting her current employers and their supporters by referring to England as ‘they’ as opposed to ‘we’ on multiple occasions.
When asked if there was any extra pressure on her being a foreign coach Sarina came back with a strong response, stating “There is pressure anyway” due to the stature of the team and her position. She described England as “the cradle of football” and that there is great potential thanks to “The structure and the way they [The FA] have developed the game in England, with a big organisation behind it and a professional league. There are so many talented players and the facilities are great, but it’s going to be a good challenge to be involved.”
Sarina’s first major tournament as Lionesses boss will be the postponed UEFA Women’s European Championships in 2022, a tournament where England are the host nation. Sarina led the Netherlands to the UEFA Women’s European Championship title when they were the host nation in 2017. She said that she hopes to use her experience of what challenges being the host nation poses but also the opportunities available to help push the team to victory.
With the Lionesses being knocked out of the 2019 Women’s World Cup by the United States, Sarina believe the Lionesses “can win major tournaments.” While the United States is clearly the team to beat, Sarina believes that “other countries can beat them because it’s just one game. In Europe, the game is improving so much. We are getting closer and closer and they [The US] will need to improve too.”
Many of Sarina’s answers could have been predicted, especially when asked if she would have divided loyalties should her Netherlands team face Team GB in the Olympics next summer. She left us in no uncertain terms that victory for Oranje Leeuwinnen will be her priority and she would not feel one ounce of guilt should she come out victorious in that tussle.
I came out of the press conference a big fan of Wiegman. She came across as polite and warm, making everyone feel very comfortable and as Sue Campbell has said at the beginning of the conference she really is easy to talk to.
Much of what I have read about Wiegman praises her as someone who prioritises her players and their welfare but given her track record as a winner at club and international level, I am sure that there is a ruthless side to her, there has to be to continually succeed at the highest level.
It is a shame that we have to wait another twelve months for Sarina to swap the Orange Lionesses for the England Lionesses. There will no doubt be extra scrutiny on the Netherlands with English and Dutch media and supporters monitoring their performances. That extra pressure will be something she will have to get used to for when she eventually replaces Phil Neville she will be expected to hit the ground running and lift the UEFA Women’s European Championship which takes place less than twelve months after her beginning her role.