England are closing the gap on US, insists Wiegman as she relishes new challenge
Manager already making plans for when Neville departs Next Olympics will be last tournament in charge of Dutch
There was an assertion from Sarina Wiegman yesterday during her first press conference as England’s new manager that may prove to be the most prescient statement of her career. Four-time World Cup winners the United States are not invincible, she said, and England are closing the gap.
The 50-year-old was named as Phil Neville’s successor last Friday, although she will officially take the reins from him in September next year. She will continue to coach her native Holland until the end of the Olympics next summer, the Dutch Football Association, the KNVB, having given her dispensation to speak to the English media. The home Euros of 2022 will be her first tournament with England and, all being well, she will be in charge for the World Cup in 2023 and the Euros in 2025.
She has two years, then, to mastermind the downfall of the Americans, who beat Neville’s England side 2-1 in last year’s World Cup semis, before defeating Wiegman’s Holland 2-0 in the final to win the tournament for the fourth time.
Asked if it was realistic to think the United States could be stopped next time, Wiegman replied: “Yes, I think so. Of course, the history of the US is awesome – it’s really great – but I think other countries can beat them. It’s one game. In Europe, the game is improving so much that I think we get closer and closer, and the US knows that, too. They have to improve their game, too. I think other countries – not only England but the Dutch, France, Germany – are going to get there, too. Sweden has done really well. Spain is developing. Countries are getting closer and closer to each other.”
England women’s first foreign coach already has an impressive pedigree: a former Fifa Best Women’s Coach, a Euro winner who is widely respected within the elite women’s game, and yesterday she gave an assured performance, whereas Neville, for all his strengths, wore his heart on his sleeve and often seemed close to stepping on the rake labelled “press conference blunder”.
The only point of concern is where Wiegman will be based once she takes on her new role. She will instead initially balance her time between England and Holland, before making a decision later. She said: “First of all, you have to do the job as good as you can. You have to perform and do the things you need to improve and develop. At first, I’ll be in England half the time and travel back and forth. Then we’ll figure out if that’s going to work and if I can bring the quality I need to bring. We’ll evaluate that, but my family stays here in the Netherlands for the first period.”
In the meantime she will have to find her own working rhythm as she juggles her current international managerial position with her next one. She has not yet spoken to the England players. “That wouldn’t be fair or polite,” she said, “so absolutely not. 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 main focus is the Dutch national team.
“I don’t want to interrupt him or be a pain for him. He just needs to do his job well. I have the responsibility of the Dutch national team – that’s my main focus. I’ll get some information and in the future there will, of course, be a transition between jobs and I’ll speak to Phil.”
The Football Association’s ambition, for some time, has been to win a major tournament. Wiegman achieved such a feat with Holland at the first time of asking, playing on home soil in a way that captured the hearts and imaginations of the Dutch people. “We said we have the chance in our country to show everyone how well we play the game,” she recalled.
She must do likewise here. “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. I definitely think it’s one of the best jobs in the world. I love my job.
“Ten years ago, there was no opportunity for me to be a professional coach, and look where I am now. We’ve had a great journey with the Netherlands – I’m very happy to be the coach of the Dutch national team and that we’ll play [at] the Olympics. But I think when I can work with the England team, that’s a world-class team and worldclass situation I’m in. I’m very happy to be part of that and that I can bring my knowledge and experience to the team.”
‘In Europe, the game is improving so much that I think we get close and the US knows that, too’
Assured: Sarina Wiegman is relishing the opportunity of taking charge of England