Sarina Wiegman. Alamy Stock Photo

The Dutch coaching genius leading England to international glory

Sarina Wiegman is looking to add a World Cup crown to her remarkable record.

SARINA WIEGMAN’S RECORD is remarkable, really.

Two European Championship wins and two World Cup finals — all in-a-row, and now with the prospect of leading England to another historic title. The Lionesses face fellow first-time finalists Spain in tomorrow’s World Cup decider.

Wiegman becomes the first coach to take two different nations to World Cup finals. She previously steered her native Netherlands to the 2019 showpiece, as well as Euro 2017 glory before England’s home Euro triumph last summer.

The 12 months since haven’t been straightforward, but neither has Wiegman’s journey as a whole.

The 53-year-old has always had to fight for everything, breaking ground and blazing a trail each and every step of the way.

Girls football was banned in the Netherlands when she was growing up in The Hague. With her hair cut short, Wiegman pretended to be a boy so she could play alongside her twin brother on their local team.

She started out as a midfielder, honing her skills in street football with boys, before settling in defence and excelling at her first women’s team, HSV Celeritas. Her maiden call-up to the Dutch senior squad arrived at the age of 16 and she made her debut under Dick Advocaat one year later in 1987. 

Wiegman studied at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, playing alongside USA legends Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly and winning the ’89 NCAA Championship with the North Carolina Tar Heels. She returned to the Netherlands as a PE teacher and joined Ter Leede, where she won the Dutch Championship and the KNVB Cup.

She balanced her on-field and off-field careers and in time, she became the first Dutch footballer to reach 100 caps. She was recognised when she hit that landmark in 2001, but her official standing later fell from 104 to 99 due to caps won against non-Fifa-affiliated opponents.

Screen Shot 2023-08-18 at 17.51.50 Wiegman became the first player to win 100 caps for her country. KNVB. KNVB.

She captained her country and scored three international goals, while her Netherlands side’s 1989, 1991 and 1993 European Championship bids fell short at the quarter-final stages.

Wiegman, who retired in 2003, also played alongside a certain Vera Pauw for the Oranje.

Her coaching journey began back at Ter Leede in 2007. She cut her teeth between there and ADO Den Haag, winning the Dutch championship at the former, the Women’s Eredivisie at the latter and the KNVB Cup at both. She refused a part-time role at ADO Den Haag until she was offered a full-time job and it all went from there.

She had balanced football, PE teaching and family life — with husband Marten Glotzbach and daughters Sacha and Lauren — up to that point, but she soon realised her full-time coaching dream. In 2014, Wiegman became Netherlands assistant manager, working under Roger Reijners and also overseeing the U19s. She soon earned her pro licence and became the first woman to coach at a Dutch professional football team — as Sparta Rotterdam assistant.

But she was destined to be a leader. After two spells as interim manager, she took the Netherlands reins in 2017. Upon her appointment, she handed out documents to players:

13 things you should give up if you want to be successful.

1. “Give up your need to be liked.”

Within six months, Wiegman transformed the team into European champions. They came from a low ebb — including four defeats in five friendlies — to reign supreme on the continent. They very nearly did it on the world stage too, but fell short to USA in the 2019 World Cup final.

England soon came calling. In August 2020, it was announced that she would succeed Phil Neville at the end of his contract the following September. Her last act with her home nation was the Olympics, and she departed for the Lionesses after their quarter-final exit.

She made her impact felt immediately, a winning streak ultimately stretching to a 30-game unbeaten run. Amazingly, they’ve lost just once in 38 matches. “In Sarina we trust,” is a common soundbite from the England camp, the astute tactician and the belief she instills continually hailed.

Wiegman appears to bring everyone’s strengths together on and off the pitch, and gets the best out of her team. Preparation is key, as is a tunnel vision towards her goals. She strikes the perfect balance alongside her long-serving assistant Arjan Veurink — the “unsung hero” as she put it yesterday.

She has navigated various setbacks and challenges around this tournament: injuries to Leah Williamson, Beth Mead and Fran Kirby, another scare to Kiera Walsh, below-par performances and Lauren James’ suspension, to name a few.

trafalgar-square-london-uk-1st-august-2022-7000-football-fans-gather-in-trafalgar-square-for-a-fan-party-with-englands-lionesses-to-celebrate-their-historic-2-1-victory-over-germany-in-the-uefa-w Celebrating the Euro win last summer. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Despite not needing to be liked, she’s just that. She comes across as an affable character, her interactions with her players indicating as much. She’s generally cool, calm and collected, but has let her emotions take over at times: her on-pitch interview after Wednesday’s semi-final win over Australia was the perfect example, while she dedicated the Euros success to her late sister’s memory last year.

“We’ve waited so long for a manager like her,” retired striker Ellen White told BBC’s live coverage on Wesndesday. “To bring something different – communication, togetherness and a philosophy England fans can really buy into. She’s captured everyone’s hearts.”

The first non-British permanent manager of the team, it’s interesting to see how Wiegman has been warmed to as opposed to high-profile outsiders in the men’s game like Fabio Capello and Sven-Goran Eriksson.

In the wider sense of English football — and the men’s teams struggles to land an international tournament win since 1966 — her achievements stand out even more.

Indeed, Wiegman is now being talked about as Gareth Southgate’s successor.

But the three-time Fifa Women’s Coach of the Year winner won’t buy in to any of that.

Now comes the prospect of a first-ever World Cup title in a fourth consecutive major tournament final after two European Championship successes.

Remarkable, really.

In Sarina, they trust.

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