It’s not often that people start chuckling when someone says things need to be more brutal. Sarina Wiegman managed it in less than a year as England national coach. She constantly insists that English football players must be ‘ruthless’ and the English can’t get enough of it.
The chuckling can be heard at the press conferences where Wiegman always uses the term. The Dutch coach is now also starting to smile when she uses the term or is asked about it, but in the meantime continues to insist that it really needs to be even more ruthless. Opportunities are there to be created, competitions to be won.
The English journalists can dream the tune, but also see that it works. Wiegman has ensured that the English football players have finally reached the final of a final tournament. They had failed in the semi-finals three times before, and on Sunday they will play against Germany for the European title at Wembley. Wiegman has turned England into a machine that can and will be ruthless and sets a good example in this himself.
Mandy van den Berg already experienced in 2017 how tough Wiegman can be when she finds it necessary. During the European Championships in 2017, she put her captain on the reserve bench after two games. The decision came out of the blue for Van den Berg and she blamed her for that the most. “I hope I never treat people like that,” she said about it in the book Strong together by Annemarie Postma. “No one has ever disappointed me as much as Sarina.”
Wiegman blinks one more time when she is presented with the criticism, it really touched her too. She found it very heavy and painful. ‘Anyway..’ She doesn’t distance herself from it for a second, difficult decisions are part of her profession. Foppe de Haan, her assistant in 2017, thought that Wiegman had waited too long. She could have avoided many problems by making the tournament decision.
Five years later, she is doing just that. Long England captain, Step Houghton, seemed fit in time after an injury. At the age of 34, the European Championship could perhaps be her last tournament, but such sentiments do not count for Wiegman. “It was a hard decision, but she’s just not ready to play.”
Where others, especially women, would be portrayed as hard and insensitive, Wiegman is praised for it. It also helps that her decisions turn out well. If she takes out three star players in the quarterfinals against Spain, their replacements with a goal and assist are good for the win.
Only rarely is there open criticism of the success coach. Whether they come from the Netherlands or England, almost all players say the same thing: Wiegman is clear, direct and honest. Sometimes sweet and caring. But above all: the coach leaves nothing to chance, the players know where they stand and they perform better.
In England, her working method lands on fertile soil. Her predecessor Phil Neville already started behind because he had no experience in women’s football. Under him, the England team often played uninspired and failed at the important moments. He aroused annoyance because after a meager 1-0 against weak Portugal he said he was so satisfied.
Dan Wiegman. As a 6-year-old, she cut her hair short to illegally play soccer with boys. She arranged herself that she could play in America, experienced the time when international matches were played in Hoogeveen with hardly any audience. She always climbed a little higher in women’s football, but there was always something to be desired. The high demands of such a person provoke no irritation, but admiring giggles.
When her side beat North Macedonia 10-0, she says her players could have made some more. If Latvia is also defeated 10-0, she expects them to be even more ruthless for the return. And then they make it 20-0. She rarely falls out of her role, for example when her team has won 8-0 against Norway. “I think I can be satisfied with it tonight.”
Every now and then a pat on the back, but above all continue to demand the maximum. Her players scored 104 goals in the nineteen games under her management, twenty in five matches at the European Championship. It’s not even that England get more chances, the team just finishes them more often. Her team scores 21 percent of all goal attempts. Opponent Germany remains at 14 percent.
“The last push is the hardest thing in football,” Wiegman once said. But she has more than prepared her squad to finish it at Wembley on Sunday.