Euro 2022: How Sarina Wiegman’s ruthless European style changed England’s fortunes | UK News

The stakes were high when Sarina Wiegman took the England job in September 2021.

Never before had the FA appointed a female coach with an established international pedigree, let alone one with major tournament credentials.

The risk was shared by all parties. The expectation was immediately heightened, and with only 10 short months to integrate a whole new philosophy before a European Championship in the spotlight of the local public, the decision had to be the right one.

Wiegman herself had to weigh her departure from her Dutch homeland and a team she guided to continental success in 2017, in favor of managing overseas for the very first time and implementing of his European strategy on a team that had only ever been overseen before by English coaches. – except for a brief interim period in 2021.

The appointment made her the first permanent non-British manager of the Lionesses, at a time when investment in the domestic game had outgrown the idea that English women could compete in international tournaments, but were never truly discussed as legitimate candidates for silverware.

The tension was palpable at times and the Dutchwoman gave the 7.9million viewers who watched England’s quarter-final win over Spain a brief glimpse of what pure relief feels like at the whistle full time.

But even then the celebrations were momentary – a fleeting wave of emotion that was quickly dispelled by pragmatism at his post-match press conference.

Wiegman is often discreet, in front of and behind the camera. It is behavior that commands respect.

A proverbial glass ceiling has already been cracked by England this summer. Sunday’s final, if she emerged victorious, would shatter her entirely.

It was Wiegman’s directive. Take England from a team on the periphery of realizing their seismic potential and put them at the center of success on the biggest stages.

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England head coach Sarina Wiegman hugs Keira Walsh at the end of Euro 2022 semi-final victory

England’s breakthrough tournament

She’s worn that coat since stepping into the role, but what followed surely exceeded even her own projections.

The former ADO Den Haag boss turned England’s traditionally gloomy summer forecast into unforgettable moments that lit up stadiums across the country – even when the weather did its best to dampen the occasion.

Generations of football fans, men and women, young and old, will talk about the night the Lionesses tore through the European record books by dismantling Norway 8-0. They will rejoice in the sheer joy of Georgia Stanway’s stun in extra time against the Spaniards. And they will forever revere the audacity of Alessia Russo’s inspired backheel against Sweden – a moment that perfectly encapsulates the 23-year-old’s impressive explosive tournament.

In truth, this is England’s revolutionary tournament under Wiegman. This is where they announce themselves as holders of a permanent seat at the European summit.

So, was England’s revival of fortune orchestrated by a genius tactician, or was their situation opportunistic, driven by a confluence of positive circumstances at the right time? Or both?

England manager Sarina Wiegman (R) during a training session

A daring tactician who breaks the archaic routine

There’s no doubt that the 52-year-old’s influence on this team has been transformative.

She is confident England are “ready to make history” and become the first women’s team – the second English national team – to win a major tournament trophy.

Based on recent evidence, who can argue?

Its approach is unlike any predecessor. She makes bold and unflinching decisions that benefit the development of the team even if they attract attention. Ousting former captain Steph Houghton from his 23-man squad before the tournament started epitomized his feelings towards sentimentality.

Former England men’s and women’s teams have been accused of sticking to what they know – an archaic routine. Not Sarina. Nine of his selections for the Euro had never played a second major football tournament before July 6.

Soccer Football - Women's Euro 2022 - Semi Final - England v Sweden - Bramall Lane, Sheffield, Britain - July 26, 2022 England players and staff celebrate after the match REUTERS/Molly Darlington
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The Lionesses beat Sweden 4-0 in the semi-final at Bramall Lane in Sheffield

She endeared herself to the nation by keeping her promise. There are no gimmicks, no PR stunts, no clever rhetoric to win over the masses. She wants to win football games by playing a brand of football that entertains crowds, inspires younger generations and leaves a lasting mark on the fabric of the football community.

“We said before the tournament and throughout that we wanted to inspire the nation, I think that’s what we do and we make a difference. The whole country is proud of us,” she said after Tuesday’s win over Sweden.

Her words are infallible and the impact she has with this team creates a legacy. A 19-game unbeaten streak has contributed to that – and if Game 20 is crowned with European glory at Wembley Stadium, then his name will be etched in English folklore in permanent black ink.

Soccer Football - Women's International - England Training - St George's Park, Burton upon Trent, Britain - May 31, 2022 England manager Sarina Wiegman with Lotte Wubben-Moy during training Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff

Wiegman’s winning formula

Unafraid of scrutiny – it comes with the job – Wiegman named an unchanged starting XI in England’s five matches en route to the final. If she sticks to that formula on Sunday, she will become the first coach in Euro history to name the same starting line-up in every match – men’s or women’s.

When she guided the Netherlands to back-to-back major finals in 2017 and 2019, she made three and five roster changes respectively. When the Dutch were crowned home champions five years ago, they only used 13 players in the entire tournament. It’s straight out of his management manual.

She favors consistency, but above all, she knows how to orchestrate this England team.

The age-old proverb applies: “Never change a winning team. But that’s not why England remained unchanged. This is because Wiegman has the utmost confidence in the responsibility bestowed on every player, and their value is nothing more or less worthy of the substitutes’ bench. In fact, it’s because each of Russo’s introductions has had such an impact that it can’t begin.

England's Alessia Russo scores her third goal
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England’s Alessia Russo scores with a backheel against Sweden in the semi-finals

Her title role is “super sub” and she plays it to perfection. Don’t forget Ellen White dug into the ground for an hour, moving defenders and challenging their positional play at every turn, before Russo’s timely arrival. That’s the strategy, and it works. Plans B, C and D are all well established and can be triggered at any time.

Individuals are on the rise, including Golden Boot contender Beth Mead, who was kicked out of previous Lionesses squads and Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics due to a perceived lack of form.

Asked about Wiegman’s influence, Euro 2022 top scorer Mead said: “She’s brought such a great environment and culture to the team. There’s a lot of clarity in how we have play.” And it is this identity that has benefited England so much.

Soccer Football - Women's Euro 2022 - Group A - England v Norway - The American Express Community Stadium, Brighton, Britain - July 11, 2022 England's Alessia Russo celebrates scoring their seventh goal with Alex Greenwood, Millie Bright and Lauren Hemp REUTERS /Matthew Childs
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England’s Alessia Russo celebrates with Alex Greenwood, Millie Bright and Lauren Hemp

Wiegman’s ‘no frills’ approach has also helped boost confidence in performance, midfielder Kiera Walsh recently explained. The focus is always on England’s strengths, not the opponent’s. This belief permeated every England game at this tournament, so much so that pundits and bookies alike rated the Lionesses as favorites to dislodge the world’s second highest ranked FIFA team, Sweden. They did it in style.

Their pressing game also improved, a hallmark of Wiegman’s continental upbringing. Both White and Mead enjoyed high press which led to a change of possession and soon after a goal, notably against Norway.

Russo’s strike against Sweden – a moment of solo magic – was possible as Walsh collected the ball deep in Swedish territory before feeding Fran Kirby, who in turn found the striker’s fearless feet. Manchester United. This side is full of technicians.

Soccer Football - Women's Euro 2022 - Semi Final - England v Sweden - Bramall Lane, Sheffield, Britain - July 26, 2022 Sweden's Amanda Ilestedt in action with England's Lauren Hemp REUTERS/Molly Darlington

Unfazed by the burden of expectation, England have never been better placed to cap off a memorable summer of football with a winners’ medal and their first ever major accolades tomorrow. Yet the camp is relaxed. This is the very foundation of the Dutch principles and collectively the group believes in this process.

Wiegman has turned this team into tournament favorites in less than a year and knows very well how to handle the pressure amplified by national hysteria. If that’s what can be achieved in less than 12 months, every Lionesses fan has every right to be extremely optimistic about what the future holds.

Football may well be about to go home.

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