Sarina Wiegman knew there was going to be high expectations when she accepted the England Women job in 2020.
She had led the Netherlands to glory in a home Euros in 2017 before reaching the World Cup final two years later. She was coming to England as a winner and her appointment as Phil Neville‘s successor was a sign of intent from the FA.
Her task is to repeat her achievement from five years ago with the Lionesses this summer. England have perhaps never had a better chance to win an international tournament.
Sarina Wiegman succeeded Phil Neville when she took charge of England in September 2021
The Euro 2017 winner leads England to a first major tournament at Euro 2022 on home territory
Several players have described this as the best squad they have ever been a part of and there is optimism that this could be their year.
In September, Wiegman took over an England side that had won just four times in their last 13 games. Hege Riise had been interim manager for six months after Neville’s departure for Inter Miami but it was an unsuccessful and disappointing period.
Confidence was low after Team GB, which included several England players, were knocked out of the Olympics at the quarter-final stage. A fresh start was needed.
Confidence was low among England players beaten in extra time by Australia at the Olympics
Nine months on and England are unbeaten in 13 games under their new manager. But what exactly has Wiegman changed to make the Lionesses serious contenders for the Euros? Sportsmail takes a look…
Under Neville, England’s philosophy was to build from the back. When it worked, it was brilliant. But there was a sense of predictability in their play and when it failed, they often came unstuck.
The Lionesses feel more adaptable under Wiegman. She too wants to play out from the back, but there is no fear in going direct if the conditions require it.
England have a greater adaptability under Wiegman and have even played defenders in attack
Take England’s win over Germany in the Arnold Clark Cup back in February. Wiegman’s decision to put centre back Millie Bright up front for the final minutes of the game paid dividends, with the defender scoring the decisive goal.
Goalkeeper Mary Earps explained how Wiegman allows her team to be versatile.
‘The right ball is the right ball. If I’m playing a longer ball, it’s a pass, you’re not just whacking it around. Sarina’s definitely keen on the players having the freedom to express themselves and making their own decisions.’
Goalkeeper Mary Earps, of Manchester United, says Wiegman has encouraged precise passing
We also saw a more defensive England when they played Spain in February. Wiegman knew their opponents would look to dominate possession but her team were able to limit the amount of chances they created and earned a 0-0 draw.
The Lionesses’ starting XI that day was heavily rotated and included several players who are more likely to be used from the bench this summer. It was an encouraging performance and result which demonstrated the depth at Wiegman’s disposal and her ability to get results without fielding a full strength team.
Direct and honest approach
A common theme that has emerged from speaking with different players is clarity. Every member of Wiegman’s squad knows their role and what the Dutch coach wants from them.
The only goal England have conceded under Wiegman was in a 5-1 win against the Netherlands
‘She’s super direct and she’s really honest which definitely goes a long way,’ says Earps. ‘She’s really keen on transparency and having open conversations.’
One player who has flourished since Wiegman’s appointment is Beth Mead. After being dropped from the England squad by Riise, Mead has gone on to score 14 times under Wiegman — which broke the record for most goals in an international season.
‘I’ve known where I’ve stood, what she’s expected of me,’ Mead says of Wiegman. ‘She’s given me a lot of confidence on the pitch and on the training pitch.
Beth Mead has broken the record for the most goals in an international season under Wiegman
‘It’s just been easy for me to go on the pitch and do what I know I can do and have the backing of my manager. I would say I’ve been a lot more free. The expectation she has for me, I understand a lot more than probably in the past.’
Dutch managers are known for their direct approach and Wiegman doesn’t beat around the bush, especially in press conferences.
She will not be drawn into bold statements or analogies and she is reluctant to talk about individuals, preferring instead to focus on the team as whole. In the past for example, Neville labelled Lucy Bronze the best player in the world, a comment the right back seemed uncomfortable with.
With Wiegman there is less emotion. Her decision to leave former captain Steph Houghton out of her 23-player squad showed she has no room for sentiment.
Leaving Steph Houghton out of England’s Euro 2022 squad was a brave decision by Wiegman
England’s record under Wiegman is 13 games played, 80 goals scored and just three conceded. Her team are currently averaging six goals a game. Part of that is to do with the standard of opposition they have faced. England beat Latvia 20-0 in a World Cup qualifier last year and there have been 10-0 wins over North Macedonia and Luxembourg.
But there is no doubt they have become more ruthless under Wiegman. This is a term she has used constantly in press conferences. She always wants her team to score more goals. There have been times when they have won 10-0 and Wiegman has insisted they should have scored more.
Wiegman held the Euro 2022 trophy at the draw — and she would love to keep it after the final
When England were 8-0 up at half-time against Latvia, Wiegman could have made several substitutions or told her team to ease off. But she wanted them to score as many as possible.
It is a similar mindset to the Americans, who beat Thailand 13-0 in the group stages of the 2019 World Cup. Wiegman herself spent time in America and has that winning mentality, which is so crucial in international football.
She is not someone who will ‘give caps away’ to players on the fringes of the first team. Even for games England are expected to win comfortably, she will usually pick the strongest available team.
‘Obviously as a striker it’s great,’ Mead says. ‘We have scored a lot of goals in qualifying but we could have scored more, we missed a lot of chances as well.
‘Sarina is keeping us on our toes and she’ll always expect more. No team is perfect but she’s striving for perfection and that’s what we want as well.’