She may not have the profile of her predecessor, Phil Neville, but the Dutch coach striving to make history with the Lionesses this summer is a proven winner at managerial level. Now Sarina Wiegman is tasked with delivering England a first major trophy since 1966. No pressure then.
Wiegman led Netherlands to victory on home soil at Euro 2017 and her mission is to repeat that feat with England, with six games separating her side from the final at Wembley on July 31.
Born in The Hague in 1969, Wiegman began playing football on the streets with her twin brother. Her country had banned girls from joining boys teams but, undeterred, a young Wiegman cut her hair short so she could play alongside her sibling.
Sarina Wiegman (centre) is tasked with delivering England a first major trophy since 1966
Eventually she was able to join a women’s team, HSV Celeritas, and was later called up to the national team at the age of 16.
In 1987, Wiegman joined Kruikelientjes ’71 and won her first trophy, the Dutch Cup, but a bigger move was on the horizon. While playing for Netherlands in China, Wiegman met United States coach Anson Dorrance.
An impressed Dorrance invited Wiegman to study and play for the women’s team at the University of North Carolina, where he was also head coach. There, Wiegman played alongside some of the best players in US history, including Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly.
‘I instantly saw Sarina’s level, that’s why I recruited her,’ Dorrance tells Sportsmail. ‘She was classically Dutch, feisty but also a technician. She could trap and pass the ball and her decision-making was very good.
‘You could see the sophistication in her game, even as a young player. She came in and did the business. She was a No 10 and orchestra conductor for a front line that included Hamm and Lilly.
Wiegman has admitted her team are one of the favourites to win the Euros this summer
‘For all the American glory in women’s football, we’re not marinaded in the game.
‘We’re famous for the American mentality, but Sarina was marinaded in the culture of football which is decision-making, technical prowess, tactical sophistication and composure.
‘She was wonderful. She always had a smile off the field but on the field the team she played for were ruthless. We’re proud and incredibly impressed with what she’s done.’
Wiegman spent the rest of her playing career with Ter Leede, winning two league titles and the Dutch Cup, while working as a PE teacher. She also earned 104 caps. Wiegman retired in 2003 following the birth of her second daughter. Three years later, she returned to Ter Leede as manager, winning the double in her first season.
The Dutch coach led the Netherlands to victory on home soil at Euro 2017
Upon the creation of the Women’s Eredivisie in 2007, Wiegman left teaching to take a full-time coaching role with ADO Den Haag. But her first year in the role proved difficult, with the club finishing fourth out of six teams.
‘She expected from us what she expects from herself,’ former player Leonne Stentler tells Sportsmail. ‘She was a player always doing everything to get better and some of our players didn’t have that.
‘In the dressing room before matches some players would be relaxing, dancing and putting music on, and in the beginning she was like, ‘Oh my god, why aren’t they focusing on the match?’ So she had to recognise everyone has other preparation styles.’
Wiegman learned quickly, with Den Haag finishing second in the following three seasons before doing the double in 2012. ‘That’s Sarina,’ says Stentler. ‘She’s always trying to be better.’
In 2014, Wiegman took her first steps into international coaching as assistant to Roger Reijners. When he was sacked in 2015, the Dutch FA asked her to take over. She said no, she was not ready. Wiegman continued as assistant under Arjan van der Laan but in December 2016, he too was sacked — seven months before Netherlands was due to host the Euros. Wiegman was asked again. This time she said yes. ‘When Sarina took over before the Euros, a lot of people were sceptical,’ says Stentler. ‘We hadn’t been successful so there weren’t expectations.’
The Dutch had a talented squad but the furthest they had ever reached in a tournament was the quarter-finals. However, in the space of six months Wiegman had convinced her players they could be winners.
The Lionesses superbly warmed up for Euro 2022 with 4-0 rout of Switzerland this week
They topped their group with ease, but Wiegman was forced to make one of the toughest calls of her career when she dropped captain Mandy van den Berg after the second game. It was a move that raised eyebrows.
‘You’re talking about the captain, one of the most experienced players, but Sarina thought this is not how we’ll win the tournament,’ says Dutch journalist Daniel Dwarswaard. ‘She took a massive decision but she’s not afraid to do such things.’ The move paid off. Netherlands beat Sweden in the quarter-finals before brushing aside England. ‘I don’t know what she did but the team started to believe that something beautiful could happen,’ says Stentler. ‘They got in a flow that did not stop.’
The Dutch beat Denmark 4-2 in the final and Wiegman became a national hero. ‘She became so famous,’ says Dwarswaard. ‘But she has always been down to earth, she says to her players, ‘Don’t be arrogant, be nice to all the fans’.’
After the glory of 2017, Wiegman led Netherlands to the World Cup final two years later, where they lost to the USA. When the FA approached Wiegman to take over from Neville in 2020, she was ready for a change.
The increasing investment and potential in the English game was too good to turn down. Wiegman took the reins in September last year and found a team deflated after a run of four wins in 13 games. Nine months on, they have played 14, won 12 and drawn two.
England have won 12 in a 14-match unbeaten run under Wiegman before the tournament
Wiegman admits her team are one of the favourites to win the Euros but she is reluctant to talk about individuals. It is a contrast to Neville, who labelled Lucy Bronze the best player in the world, a comment with which the defender seemed uncomfortable.
With Wiegman there is less emotion. Her decision to leave former captain Steph Houghton out of her squad showed she has no room for sentiment.
Stentler adds that Wiegman is not afraid of giving her players a dressing down. ‘Her eyes can spit fire,’ says Stentler. ‘If she’s mad, you will always see. Not like yelling so the whole stadium can hear but she can get mad in her own way.
‘But she’s really warm, too. She’s always interested in what’s happening in your life.’
England’s players speak highly of their manager and this could be their best chance of winning a major trophy. ‘We have a dream,’ says Wiegman. ‘I just hope that we do well, make ourselves, the fans and our families proud.’