After guiding England to the Women’s World Cup final on Wednesday, more than a year after they won the European Championship on home soil, coach Sarina Wiegman seemed stunned.
“I never take anything for granted but it’s like, am I in the middle of a fairytale or something?” he said.
Wiegman’s ruthless Lionesses defeated co-hosts Australia 3-1 in the semifinals in front of a large and somewhat hostile crowd and will face Spain in Sunday’s final, bidding for their first ever Women’s World Cup title.
The clash in Sydney will be the fourth major final of Wiegman’s career, which is one of the most famous and successful in the women’s game.
In 2017, Wiegman led her native Netherlands to glory at the Women’s Euros before guiding them to the 2019 World Cup final, where they lost to the United States.
Heading into this year’s World Cup, Wiegman was one of only 12 female managers out of 32 coaches but by the time the tournament reached the quarterfinals, she was the only female manager in contention.
If Wiegman goes on to guide England to glory, he will become the first England manager – male or female – to lift as many major trophies.
Wiegman’s reign as England manager has turned heads in the country, with fans confident of “coming home” – 57 years after Alf Ramsey guided them to men’s World Cup glory at Wembley.
Since taking up the role in late 2021, Wiegman has transformed England into a competitive and resilient team, losing just once – to Australia in a pre-World Cup friendly – in 38 matches. game.
“His record for England is nothing short of spectacular,” BBC Sport’s Emma Smith told Al Jazeera. “He took over a side that showed a lot of potential in 2019 [where they finished fourth] and took its full potential.
“The most remarkable part of his tenure has been his ability to harness and harness the momentum that has built up behind the England team, while also overcoming significant challenges such as injuries, salary issues and bonuses. , and concerns about squad choices. , to the extent that they fade into the background compared to the weight of momentum that exists in England.
According to freelance journalist Philip O’Connor, the main reason for Wiegman’s success in England is that he has confidence in his players.
“His handling of management is amazing. I cannot think of a better coach in the game right now,” said O’Connor, whose Global Gael podcast covers Ireland’s World Cup journey in detail. “His game planning is second to none. on the left, and he’s very good at adjusting his tactics.”
O’Connor added that Wiegman, who is very different from her predecessor Phil Neville, has a record and a reputation in the women’s game that speaks for itself.
“While other coaches tend to try to put square pegs in round holes, he walks a fine line between getting his best players on the pitch and getting the best out of them.” good,” he explained.
‘He does things his way’
Although England entered the World Cup as one of the title favourites, they also had to deal with their fair share of issues before or during the tournament.
All-time top scorer Ellen White announced her retirement before the tournament, while captain Leah Williamson and Euros top scorer Beth Mead missed the World Cup due to ACL injuries.
During the tournament, breakout star Lauren James was suspended for two games due to a red card, and key midfielder Kiera Walsh missed the game due to injury.
The team also had off-field problems such as disputes with the governing Football Association over performance-related bonuses before they decided to put discussions on hold until after the World Cup.
These issues pose a challenge for England, but thanks to Wiegman’s impressive adaptability, and the team’s belief, they always find a way to reach the next step.
The clarity and consistency of the Dutchwoman played a key role, resulting in England being the most efficient team in the World Cup.
“Under Wiegman, things have been done his way and no one else’s,” Smith added. “This is evident in her insistence on playing Women’s Super League top scorer Rachel Daly at left-back, despite criticism from outside, with positive results.
“He’s in his system and makes sure the players follow his lead – but isn’t afraid to change things when the circumstances call for it.”
Freelance women’s sports journalist Nancy Gillen said a mix of tactical excellence and good team management made Wiegman successful.
“Wiegman’s tactical nous is clear when watching the Lionesses. He knows how to get the best out of every player in every position, but can also show the flexibility needed to change things when they’re not working,” Gillen said.
For Lionesses fan David Whelan, Wiegman is the master of adaptability.
“Adaptation is often used as a vague, positive term to describe managers, while we also [praise] dogmatists like Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp because of their strong belief in their way,” said Whelan, writer and Evan Frankel Fellow at the University of Denver.
“But I think that overstates what the best managers usually do; Football tactics focus on more complex equations with variable functions, and what you want to come after the equal sign is a single letter, ‘W’. Wiegman is the master of that.
While his competitive drive and tactical awareness make him the perfect leader, Wiegman is also a desirable figure in the dressing room, with England forward Alessia Russo branding the 53-year-old a role model in team.
The coach’s calm and quiet humility set him apart from the rest.
“Whether it’s visible to the public or not, too many coaches have a Messiah complex, where they believe in their own ideas, systems and opinions above all else, while Wiegman is humble enough to see every game and every opponent is a problem to be solved with the resources at his disposal,” O’Connor said.
“To look at what he’s done tactically or in terms of team selection is to miss the point – it’s his leadership and what he’s like as a person that’s the basis of his success, and that sort of thing. rarely learned in teaching courses. .”
Wiegman also called on more female coaches to help the game.
A 2019 study by FIFA found that only 7 percent of football coaches worldwide are women, even though women are very successful on the international stage: All but one of the major football tournaments in women – the World Cup, Euros and the Olympics – won. of women-coached teams.
One of the biggest obstacles for female coaches is the coaching certification process, which requires a lot of cost and labor. Meanwhile, the rapid growth of the women’s game is likely to attract more men – although it could also mean more retired female players entering coaching.
“Of course what we hope is to get more female football coaches at a high level and the balance is better than it is now,” Wiegman before England’s game against Nigeria.
“Of course men are also welcome. There are many men who have done a very good job in the women’s game, but if the balance was better it would also encourage other women to start coaching.
Meanwhile, after a month of dealing with obstacles down under, England and Wiegman are preparing for the final hurdle against Spain and their quest to achieve sporting immortality.
All eyes will once again be on serial winner Wiegman, who is eager to write the perfect ending to his fairytale.