Sarina Wiegman has mastered most things in football – winning games, reaching finals, lifting trophies. But when it comes to English quirks and idioms, she still gets by.
In her press conference ahead of England’s Round of 16 game, Wiegman was asked if the cat was out of the bag when it came to Lauren James, who starred in the previous win. A confused Wiegman asked, “Excuse me?” before bursting into laughter.
But as she prepares to lead the Lionesses to a World Cup final for the first time ever, the Dutch-born coach says she’s starting to feel more “English”.
“I think so,” Wiegman laughs. “I’ve been trying to learn a little more about the English language, the proverbs are sometimes a problem, so I’m trying to learn a little more!”
There is also a greater understanding of English traits and personalities. Wiegman is known for being direct and to the point, a trait she describes as “very Dutch”.
Sarina Wiegman may not have a good grasp of English idioms, but after two years at the helm, she’s starting to feel more ‘English’
The Dutch coach will lead a national team to a World Cup final for the second time in her career on Sunday
In 2022, Wiegman ended the “years of pain” by winning the European Championship
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According to their players, they enjoy it, but they also had to get used to it.
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“I think so, that… yes, [I understand the people a bit more] But English people are very polite and sometimes you wonder: “Okay, are you being polite now or are you really saying what you mean?”
“And sometimes that means finding a balance, because you don’t have to be rude to be direct. Therefore I ask the players and the staff: be honest, it does not mean that you are rude. Just be direct.
“You can just say what’s on your mind and still be very respectful.”
Wiegman began her job with the Lionesses in September 2021. There were high expectations that she could be the woman who would end “56 years of pain,” which she did by winning the European Championship. In the run-up to a World Cup final, people are obviously talking about the year 1966. As a foreign manager in a new country, Wiegman could easily think we’re all crazy.
“I don’t hear it that often because I get out of the noise, but I know it’s there,” says Wiegman.
“When we started work in September 2021, I had the feeling that the country really wanted to win a final in a tournament.” Everyone said that, including the players.
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“I thought, ‘It’s very real.’ If you want to win too much, then what do we have to do? What do we have to do to win and how can we win?
“In order to get the results, we have to stop talking about the result, because we know what we want.” I heard again: “1966”. The year 1966 is on everyone’s lips. So let’s do our best on Sunday and try to be successful.
“Football is so big in England, it’s because of the culture.” It’s incredible to experience. it’s so big It is everywhere. That’s pretty cool too.’
Wiegman has been key to the Lionesses’ success over the past two years, but this World Cup brought a number of challenges that the European Championships did not.
Three key players, Beth Mead, Fran Kirby and captain Leah Williamson, were eliminated from the tournament through injury. She had to struggle with clubs to get them to release their players in time if she was to start her pre-camp at St George’s Park. There was a bonus dispute between the team and the Football Association which became public before the team flew to Australia and is still unresolved.
Keira Walsh, who was considered England’s most important player in the tournament, suffered what appeared to be a serious knee injury in the second game against Denmark. In the round of 16, their top scorer, Lauren James, was sent off for stepping on an opponent. England then faced hostile spectators in the quarter-finals against Colombia and in the semi-finals against Australia. Nothing was easy, but Wiegman found a way to win.
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But not only Wiegman is responsible for this. It was her assistant Arjan Veurink who suggested changing from the usual 4-3-3 formation to a 3-4-1-2 formation. “In the first two games we struggled a bit and there were moments where we played really well, but there were also moments where we were a little vulnerable,” says Wiegman.
“So Arjan came to me after the second game and said, ‘Sarina, let’s sit down, isn’t this the time for a 3-5-2?’ To the 5-…” I said you’re absolutely right, this is the moment that now, with the composition of the squad and the players available, we can get more out of the players and their strengths in this form.’
Wiegman now faces another dilemma – whether to bring James back into the starting XI or keep Ella Toone, who scored in the semi-final win. Toone hadn’t been at her best in this tournament before her success against Australia but after that goal and performance it would be incredibly hard to drop her.
What is certain is that Wiegman will make whatever decision she feels is best for the team. She will not bring sentimentality into play.
It says something when other managers hold Wiegman in such high esteem. Former US coach Jill Ellis praised Wiegman’s tactical skills early in the tournament, while Australia head coach Tony Gutavasson said it was no surprise she was the last female coach left at this World Cup.
But it was Chelsea manager Emma Hayes who summed up perfectly yesterday what Wiegman has brought to English football.
“Everyone in England was aware that this is a golden generation and they just needed the right leader, which we have,” Hayes said.
“Sarina has the experience, charisma and qualities to deliver winning football games at the highest level.”
“The thing is, there’s an expectation, but we’re okay with that.” We like being in this position and I’m sure the players are excited to be here. “Winning the World Cup would mean everything to them and the people at home.”
Wiegman knows how important Sunday’s game is. This is the best chance an English team has ever had of winning a World Cup and it could be the best they ever will have.
“We’ve grown into this tournament and the players feel very comfortable, they’re confident,” said the England coach yesterday. Wiegman is the woman who can lead her to stardom. If she wins again on Sunday, the cat is definitely out of the bag.