August 8, 2022

‘It’s going to have a big impact on the growth of the game here in England’

After a stint in the United States, attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and playing for the North Carolina Tar Heels women’s soccer team, Sarina Wiegman returned to her homeland, the Netherlands.

Her time in the US had been successful, becoming an NCAA champion in 1989 and lining up alongside players such as Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Carla Overbeck during her time at University.

However, a return to the Netherlands always appeared likely, as did the success that followed. During her time with Ter Leede – where she worked as a PE teacher on the side – Wiegman won two Dutch championships and the KNVB Cup. After becoming pregnant with her second child in 2003, she retired – but her time in the game was far from over.

Given that the Women’s Super League is fully professional, with full-time footballers, one would be forgiven for being surprised that a footballer in the top tier of Dutch football had to balance a full-time job alongside competing.

But, it is not uncommon; it happens up and down the country on a daily basis. And juggling the two is no mean feat. For Wiegman, the fact she wasn’t able to become a professional in the Netherlands, coupled with the desire to work in the football industry – and the obvious need to earn a living – meant it was a must.

“I really liked to work in sports, I always wanted to work in football but at that time that wasn’t an option, and I couldn’t become a professional player yet in the Netherlands, so I combined it by half working and half playing,”  Wiegman, speaking as part of Nationwide Building Society and England Football’s ‘Where Greatness is Made’ campaign, which celebrates six prominent official England women’s captains from Sheila Parker to Steph Hougton, told JOE.

“Over time it has changed, I think it’s so nice to see how the game has developed, but also because of focus, because the players can focus on their football careers which makes them even better.”

See also  Cristiano Ronaldo earns £10,000 for children's charity after hitting goal milestone

From player to coach

After a successful playing career – which saw Wiegman appeared 104 times for her country – a move into coaching was a natural next step.

In 2006, she became manager of Ter Leede, where she led the side to the Dutch championship and the KNVB Cup in 2007. That summer, Wiegman made the move to become manager of the women’s team of ADO Den Haag, with success once again following.

She led the side to the Eredivisie title and won the KNVB Cup twice before leaving ADO to become assistant coach of the Netherlands women’s side, as well as coordinator of the women’s national under-19 team.

It therefore came as no surprise to the people close to her that, in 2015, she attended the KNVB course to obtain a professional coaching licence, before accepting an internship at Sparta Rotterdam and being appointed as the Netherlands’ interim head coach.

History maker

A year later, Wiegman received her UEFA Pro coaching licence, having completed the Dutch Football Association’s coaching course and a one-year internship at Sparta Rotterdam. She was then named as the temporary assistant of Ole Tobiasen at Jong Sparta Rotterdam – alongside her work as Netherlands’ Women’s assistant – and became the first female coach at a Dutch professional football organisation.

“I was really happy to get my pro license, because I wanted to be able to work where I wanted to work and become a professional coach,” Wiegman added.

“It was a thing because I was a woman, but I just did my job and I worked well, as well as I could. That was it, I was always thinking ‘I’m doing my job, I’m doing the best I can and perform.”

Just two months after joining Jong Sparta Rotterdam, Wiegman was once again appointed interim head coach of the Netherlands Women, before being named as head coach on a permanent basis the following month.

Her time in charge of the Netherlands was extremely successful, and provided her with the platform to truly demonstrate her skills. As well as securing the Netherlands Women’s first European Championship title and first ever major honour in women’s football, Wiegman was awarded The Best FIFA Women’s Coach accolade.

The next step?

England. The Lionesses. Wiegman signed a four-year contract as the England women’s manager, taking over from Phil Neville and becoming the first non-British permanent Lionesses boss.

Since taking charge, England have won nine of 11 matches – drawing the other two – scoring 72 goals and conceding just twice along the way. It has been the perfect start, without a single hiccup. But, the biggest challenge is still yet to come.

‘Incredible to have Euros here’

The UEFA Women’s Euro 2022, which is being hosted by England and takes place from 6 to 31 July 2022, is up next. The defending champions? The Netherlands, of course.

It is undoubtedly a massive opportunity. Not only for the Lionesses to achieve and taste success, but for the women’s game to continue to grow its audience.

Wiegman said: “It’s incredible to have the tournament here, the group stage games are sold out for us already, it’s going to be the biggest event ever in the Women’s Euros and we just want to use the momentum and play our best game.

“Hopefully we win lots of games and get through, but I think for the women’s game in general, it’s going to have a big impact on the growth of the game here in England, but also worldwide too because as you see in England, the game grows and develops very quickly, but also in other countries it develops really well, the competitions are growing worldwide.

“I think the Euros will even give that a push to go quicker.”

England gunning for glory

While the Lionesses boss understands that it is a great opportunity for women’s football as a whole, she is also keen – and determined – for her side to show exactly how good they are.

Currently ranked eighth in the world, England are not the favourites to triumph. However, Wiegman wants them to put on a show, and keep fans coming back for more.

“This is really an opportunity for us to show everyone in England how good we are and that we can win games, that’s what we really want,” Wiegman said.

“So whoever comes to our games, that they enjoy it and that they see a team who plays really well and collaborates as a team.

“And that when they leave the game, they say ‘oh the next game I want to be there too’ and that they want to be part of the women’s game.”

She added: “It’s hard to describe [how excited the squad is], it’s such an incredible moment and we’re really looking forward to it.

“We had the World Cup qualifying games as well as the Arnold Clark Cup which was a very important tournament to prepare for the Euros.

“We can’t wait, we’re really looking forward to getting ready for July 6.”

Growth of the Women’s Super League

Before the England squad comes together, there is still a lot to settle in the Women’s Super League. Chelsea and Arsenal are currently locked in a two-horse race for the league title, with Manchester United and Manchester City fighting for a Champions League spot.

This season has seen a raise in both the standard of the game and attendances at stadiums, with a number of clubs playing at the men’s grounds for certain matches in the campaign.

In March, United Women played in front of fans at Old Trafford for the first time in history, with Marc Skinner’s side securing a 3-1 win over Everton.

As the England manager, Wiegman spends a lot of time watching the WSL. She believes that the constant growth and improvement of the game will only help to increase the crowds watching on.

She said: “What I really like first is that the level of the game is growing and growing, it’s becoming better and better with more players that are so good.

“If you look at the competition at the top of the table, and also to make the Champions League, it’s so close. That’s really good to see, and that also helps the game grow, and the crowds will grow playing in bigger stadiums.

“I hope the game will keep growing, but that we also keep the things that are really specific to the women’s game, so ‘where did we come from? Where are we now?’ and we want to be really close and approachable for the fans, so I hope that whole combination stays.”

The Lionesses kick-off their 2022 Women’s Championship against Austria on July 6. One aim – for everyone involved – is to increase the interest in the women’s game. The other? Bring it home.

To find out more about the ‘Where Greatness is Made’ campaign follow this link: https://nationwide-signyoursupport.co.uk/