Sarina Wiegman reflects on a historic year with the Lionesses. How did her team get the big moments right at the Euros — and where do the European champions go from here?
by Dom Smith at Wembley
“You can’t beat that,” says Sarina Wiegman. The England manager is in high spirits as she speaks to the media after a historic year for the Lionesses. “You can only get equal to that,” she says about the possibility of recreating their superb 2022 in the new year. Not only did England win their first major silverware at senior level, they did so having won every game at Euro 2022.
And they bookended that with a successful qualifying campaign for next summer’s World Cup, in which they won all ten games — scoring 80 goals and conceding none. It was the greatest qualifying campaign in the history of the World Cup or European Championships — by any female or male national team ever.
“Is that true? That’s nice!” says Wiegman when I tell her this fact. “You guys are so good at statistics; you always help me with the statistics,” she smiles.Embed from Getty Images
“We actually don’t talk about these results all the time,” she admits. “We want to win every game but we talk about how we can improve the next game. How can we make sure that we perform at the highest level at the next game? How can we develop our style our play, making our chance of winning the next game as high as possible? Of course we want to break all the records, but breaking a record doesn’t say what you have to do.
“We always bring it back to what we have to take action in. How do we stick together as a team? I truly believe that’s where it starts. Keep communicating, knowing each other on pitch and off pitch. We have to give clarity about the style of play, what’s expected, what role and task players have and then give them the freedom to make their own choices on the pitch.
“The players feel very comfortable with that way of approach. At the moment it works really well and they feel really comfortable. And you can tell because we are enjoying ourselves — and winning helps. We will have some very interesting, high-level games over the next year.”
For all of the thrashings — like the ones they handed out to much-fancied Norway and to neighbours Northern Ireland — there were also nail-biting moments for the Lionesses. Against Spain in the quarterfinals and Germany in the final, they won 2–1 and were at moments behind or pegged back level. They needed to show resolve and resilience to pull through. Wiegman was able to bring experience of such moments with her from her last job, where she won Euro 2017 as Netherlands manager. How was she able to transfer that to England so quickly?
“Luck! Very lucky!” She smiles, then pauses. “No, when I came in in September last year I started talking to players. What have they experienced? What made this team so good so far? And what do we need to take the next step: to make a final, and to win the final? They gave us so much information in these individual conversations that we really got the information.
“From that, we made a plan in style of play. We kept it really simply. In team development and in scheduling, we made some little changes that we thought were necessarily. And of course, it really helps that I already had experience in the World Cup in 2015, I was a scout in 2009, [managing in] 2015, [winning] in 2017.Embed from Getty Images
“When you have experience, you can already expect what’s going to happen. We were talking a lot about managing the game. In the beginning, everything was 100 miles an hour and I said ‘We have to manage the game a little bit’. But what does that look like, to manage the game? One of our principles is ‘Think forward, playing forward’, but not all the time, because then you get rushed and it takes away the quality.
“Those simple words and principles really got [through] to the players. For example, the Spain game was really tight. We made a difference between tier one, two and three teams. With every opponent we made difference goals. When you play Luxembourg, you’re almost in the final third for 90 minutes. When we play Germany or Spain, we know we have to defend a little more, so we put more emphasis on defending and transition moments in our half of the pitch. You’re predicting, then we prepare for the game, then we have the game, then we evaluate the game. And hopefully that sticks with the players.
“The Spain game, we needed to force a goal. But in the Arnold Clark Cup, we talked to a couple of players and said: ‘We have to beat Germany to win the cup, what do you think?’ We already knew what we wanted; it’s about what they want. If we’re tying this game, should we take a tie or try and win the tournament? They said: ‘No, we want to go and win.’ So we made choices to force a goal, which I really love because I knew we’d need this scenario in the [Euros] tournament. That helps.
“I feel like a mum sometimes…”