September 28, 2022
Sarina Wegmann led the Netherlands to their first major title at Euro 2017, and to the World Cup Final two years later

Whisper it softly, but England couldn’t be better off ahead of the European Women’s Championship.

The Lionesses have never won a major international tournament, but they entered this tournament after 13 unbeaten matches under the leadership of Sarina Wegmann.

And in the Dutch, who masterminded the Netherlands’ victory at home at Euro 2017, she has a manager who has already proven that she can thrive in the most challenging of environments.

Here, BBC Sport talks to some of the players and coaches I’ve worked with over the years to get an insight into the woman who put a spring in the England team’s stride.

player

Wegmann first discovered football on the streets of The Hague, where she played alongside her twin brother where there were no girls-only teams. First called up by the Netherlands in 1986, aged 16, she later moved to the United States for a year to study and play football at the University of North Carolina (UNC).

Sarina Weigmann holds the trophy when she was captain of the Netherlands national team
Wijmann became the first Dutch player to make 100 appearances for her country, with a record 104 game finish

Wegman University’s North Carolina Tar Heel team was no ordinary side, with future World Cup winners Mia Hamm and Kristen Lilly also in the ranks.

Lilly – the most decorated player in the sport’s history, having made 354 appearances for the United States – has fond memories of sharing her first year with the Dutch.

“I can imagine her smiling — there was always some laughter,” she says. “She was kind, friendly and a very good midfielder, so I loved having her on my team. She worked hard.

“As a player she had a little bit of grit and competitiveness about her, and I think as a coach you won’t see her that often, because you have to be on an equal footing. But as a player, I can see her face in the game, and the tension was when I played. I loved it.”

Wiegman spoke of the concern as she embarked on that first trip to the US – saying it was completely outside her comfort zone – but any nerves were unclear to those looking.

“I don’t think it was a terrible experience for her,” says Anson Durance, who directed the women’s soccer program at the University of North Carolina.

“She was really a Dutch international, traveling all the time. She didn’t at least appear shy, panicked, or scared. She looked pretty good.

“He immediately embraced it. All we could see was an instant adaptation of American culture. The Dutch were called Americans in Europe—a very straightforward country.”

Junior coach

Wiegman combined her playing career with teaching PE, then started coaching soccer when she retired as a player. When the Women’s Eredivisie was created in 2007, she landed her first full-time job as a coach at ADO Den Haag, after initially turning it down when she was offered a semi-professional basis.

Sarina Wegmann when she was a director at ADO Den Haag
Sarina Wiegman left her career as a teacher to become a full-time coach at ADO Den Haag

Former Netherlands international Leon Stentler was one of the players Wigmann took to ADO Den Haag in her first season there.

“I didn’t know what to expect but it was really warm, so I felt totally welcome,” says Stentler. “The way she welcomed me and the way she talked about wanting to do it was warm but really ambitious.”

Stentler remembers an unusual rule early in her time there which meant that no one on the team was allowed to have a drink of water alone – it had to be done together.

“In the beginning she was a solid coach and had a lot of rules, and during the first year she made a lot of changes and worked on developing herself,” she says.

“I know she reads a lot of management books so that was what she was doing and we tested all the exercises she read about. We really felt the development of ourselves, but also the development of herself.”

At first, the lively locker room before the match, with the loud music, leaves the manager confused.

“Sometimes I would look at it and couldn’t understand why people were dancing and laughing—it was like, ‘You have to focus and focus on the game…that would be a disaster,'” Stintler recalls.

“She should have known that this was the preparation for that specific character.”

Weigman spent seven years at the club, but Stintler says those first few months were the biggest learning period for the future England manager.

“She let us know what rules work with us, but she was going to make sure the tires were really clear,” she said. “Inside those tires, we were completely free to do things that suited us.”

the assistant

After seven years at Den Haag, Wijmann became assistant coach of the Dutch national team. She also wanted to continue to develop as a coach, so she became one of the few Dutch women to obtain a Uefa Pro license.

Coach Roger Regner, assistant coach Jan Willem van Eyde of the Netherlands, assistant coach Sarina Wegmann before the Netherlands match with Estonia in 2015.
Sarina Wiegmann was the assistant coach of Dutch national coach Roger Regner

As part of the requirements for the Pro license course, Wiegman needed to do an internship. She wrote to Alex Pastor, head coach of Sparta Rotterdam, asking if she could do some training at his club – the Dutch second-tier men’s team.

Pasteur says Wigman – his team’s first female coach – was “very serious” about her job.

“She had the experience of playing it herself,” he says. “Tactical matters, we all discussed it together. I took part in it and saw the same things we saw.

“As a coach, you need a certain leadership and authority, and that’s something she had when she was leading parts of the training.”

When the season ended, Pasteur asked Wijmann to return as an assistant for the Under-23 team, making her the first female coach in Dutch professional football. However, that was cut short, when the national team demanded more of her time.

But Pasteur has no doubt that she would have prospered in whatever path she chose.

“I honestly think that if she was coaching in a professional men’s soccer team in the Netherlands, she would have succeeded,” he says.

Leader

Weigmann stepped up twice as caretaker coach for the Netherlands before taking the position permanently in January 2017. She won the Euros seven months later, and led the team to the World Cup final in 2019. She took over as England manager in September 2021.

Dutch coach Sarina Wijmann poses during the Group A match between Netherlands and Norway at Euro 2017
Wigman succeeded Phil Neville as England coach

If Wegman felt the England squad needed to gather after her arrival, she also knew how to do it.

Lionesses goalkeeper Hannah Hampton recalls turning one room at the team’s training base into a “huge fire pit with beanbags, hot chocolate, and more.”

In that home environment, players were encouraged to share their stories and create connections with their teammates.

“I think since then it has changed everyone’s attitude and the atmosphere has changed… You definitely feel closer to each other and we definitely all cared about each other.

“We’re just a huge family.”

But if bringing the championship-winning mentality to the England national team in the mere 10 months before winning a home Euro seems difficult, Wigman had even less time – six months – when she was in charge of her homeland.

A Dutch team took possession of low morale and, due to its association with the previous regime, had to win over new players and crew. This included the extensively experienced coach Phoebe de Haan, who was brought in to assist Wegmann.

“At first we had to find our place,” says de Haan. “We’ve come to an agreement about what my part of the job is, and what my part of the job is.”

Despite De Haan being older and more experienced, Wiegman was comfortable in the lead role.

“She knows what she wants,” says De Haan. “But she was also open and eager to hear other people’s ideas.”

Trying to get her to stop during that first tournament was even more difficult.

“She’s a workaholic,” says de Haan. “Every day, every moment you work, you work, you work. I told her, ‘You have to take the rest.'” You have to relax sometimes. “I tried to delegate to others.”

There were stressful moments during the Euros – such as the first-half tie with Denmark in the final – but de Haan says one of Wegmann’s strengths is that “she is always calm, never panicking”.

Sarina Weigman speaks to the England national team as they gather after their victory over the Netherlands at Island Road
Under the leadership of Sarina Wiegmann, England beat Germany and the European champions Holland, and tied with highly-rated Spain and Olympic champions Canada.

Quiet, clear, and direct words appear regularly when people are asked to describe Wiegman.

Indeed, when Weigmann was appointed, Netherlands striker Vivien Miedema said England were getting a “really clear coach” who “knows how you want to play”.

Her new graphics have been similarly impressed.

Striker Beth England described her as a “very good person”, as well as someone of very high standards.

England says, “You tell us when things are not well; and do not be ashamed to be savage and savage when you want to.”

Defender Millie Bright says her national coach “really resembles” club manager Emma Hayes, who succeeded Weigman as FIFA’s coach of the year.

“It takes away all the emotion and doesn’t get directly attached to me as a person, more as a footballer and what’s best for the team,” Bright says.

the person

Born in The Hague in 1969, Wegmann is married to Martin Glutzbach, a youth football coach, with whom she has two daughters.

Dorrance, the Wigman University coach, says one of his most striking memories came a few years after she left the United States.

His American team won the World Cup in 1991 and he was invited to give a lecture in front of a group of Dutch coaches at Zeist – the national team training center.

He says he introduced his philosophy – a technical test to show how skilled a player is – but the concept didn’t sit well with his fans.

“All I remember from that Zest experience is that poor Sarina sucks blows with me, and I can see the panic on her face,” he says.

“Somewhat embarrassed by the way she was treated. I’ve never forgotten it. I still have a great picture of her soulful face looking at me, just hoping her classmates would give me a break.”

For Stentler, this human aspect sets Wiegman apart from the other coaches she has worked with during her career.

“She really feels what the players need – and makes sure you feel warm, welcome and open to say anything to her. If I’m in a really bad situation, I can tell her without any consequences. And that feeling of openness is not very common in coaches.

“I definitely had moments when I wasn’t happy with Sarina, but when I look back at my career, she was the best coach, the best human, of my career.”

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