Well before Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder earned their 100th caps for the Netherlands, a gritty midfield operator had in 2001 become the first Dutch player to reach that landmark. Sarina Wiegman’s record-breaking playing career provided an excellent grounding for a woman whose brilliant managerial career has just got a whole lot better.
Although widely thought of as a one-club player for Dutch side Ter Leede, Wiegman actually had a brief college career in the United States with the North Carolina Tar Heels. There she played in the same team as a host of revered women’s football superstars, including Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly, who both excelled in their youth.
First called up to the Netherlands’ senior fold at age 16, she had to wait a year to make her debut in 1987. Two decades later, she was the first Holland player to reach a century of international caps, and had just won Ter Leede their first league title in three years in her very first year as a manager. She and Ter Leede claimed the domestic cup to boot.
It had only taken that one season in charge of her old club for the more powerful and more ambitious to cast their eyes upon Wiegman’s work and duly phone her up. She became manager of ADO Den Haag, where she remained for seven years. Two cups and one league title later, the Dutch FA (the KNVB) had secured her signature as the new Netherlands Women’s assistant manager.
That growing reputation as someone who quickly claims silverware upon arrival only continued to grow. Just six months after she replaced Arjan van der Laan as the permanent manager, Wiegman put behind her a history of quarter-final disappointments as a Holland player by securing her nation its first ticket to a major tournament final. Beaten by her and Holland in the semi-finals: England. Then Denmark were downed 4-2 in a one-sided final. The Dutch were Euro 2017 winners — an upset masterminded by the ever-triumphant Sarina Wiegman, soon to be named FIFA Coach of the Year.
Wiegman was breaking down barriers again last year, taking the Netherlands to their first World Cup final, where they again impressed with their irresistible attacking play. Although defeat to the United States in the final was perhaps a foregone conclusion, her becoming the first woman to have a commemorative statue built in the KNVB’s headquarters was not. Nonetheless, a thoroughly merited accolade for a true successor to Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff through her success, and through her winning philosophy.
News that Wiegman will be Phil Neville’s successor as England manager next July is welcome news. For now, she will focus on trying to secure a gold medal at next summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games with the Netherlands. That means Great Britain’s manager in those games remains a mystery. The English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish FAs continue to discuss potential suitors.
Haven’t England — albeit the men — been here before, when following an Englishman’s reign, the highly successful foreign coach Fabio Capello was shipped in from Real Madrid, and failed miserably to get a tune out of the Three Lions? Even Baddiel and Skinner managed to do that.
Fear not, comparisons with Capello are not well-founded. Wiegman isn’t a pragmatist like Capello; her style is expansive, speedy and wing-based. Unlike the Italian, her grasp of English is good, thanks in no small part to her spell across the pond in her early career. And her intentions are to continue the stellar work of Hope Powell, Mark Sampson and Neville, rather than to come in, ruffle feathers and address obtrusive issues.
The announcement of Wiegman as the next Lionesses manager shows the continued growth that this team are enduring. The bargaining power has only increased, as England’s women’s side make an ever-bigger impact at the top level of the sport. The Canadian Bev Priestman is widely regarded as one of the brightest minds in women’s football. The FA could never have secured her as assistant manager even a decade ago. The brand just wasn’t big enough then. She has now been working with England and Neville for two years.
According to reports, The FA had to sift through 142 applications before deciding to offer Wiegman the job. That number shows the popularity of a role of this prestige. Wiegman and the United States’ Jill Ellis are the two most natural successors to Neville.
“It speaks volumes for the progress of England women over recent years and the bold ambitions we have for the future that we had so many world-class candidates apply for the role,” said Baroness Sue Campbell.
The FA’s Chief Executive, Mark Bullingham, added, “Sarina was the outstanding candidate from a very strong field. She is a proven winner and we are confident she can take England to the next level, giving us the best possible opportunity of achieving our ambition to win a major tournament.”
So Wiegman rose above the rest of the pack and has secured the role, bringing with her a plethora of experience and quality. Will England reap the rewards?
All Photos: Getty Images