If Sarina Wiegman does go on to win the World Cup with England, it would be the most impressive of all her major tournament wins.

This summer, she has faced challenges she never endured when she won home European Championships with the Netherlands and England in 2017 and 2022 respectively, or when she took the Dutch to the World Cup final in 2019.

She has always played 4-3-3, with two sitters. She’s never had to adjust and always had a fully fit squad before and during tournaments. But with injuries to Fran Kirby, Leah Williamson and Beth Mead, and Ellen White and Jill Scott retiring, she went into this tournament with her first XI not set in stone. She had to make choices about her back line and strikers.

England were lucky to see off Haiti. After that game, Sarina realised she had to change the system.

I’ve actually never really seen her do that at all — not that drastically. That shows you that she is also still developing, becoming a better coach than she used to be. That drive is a special thing for a manager to have after you’ve already won it all… almost.

She took over as Netherlands coach six months before our home Euros in 2017. In the pre-camps, she broke up our playing style into different blocks. As the tournament got closer, things became more tournament-related. We would have quizzes on our opponents.

World Cup

Miedema and Wiegman during the 2017 Euros (Photo: Eric Verhoeven/Soccrates/Getty Images)

You can have environments where staff and players feel pulled apart from each other, but she wanted us all to see each other as equals. Sarina knows what kind of characters she needs to have around her to fill up her shortcomings and that’s why bringing Arjan Veurink, her long-serving assistant, to England was a priority. He is a really good coach technically but also hangs out with players, makes sure they’re feeling good and runs many of the individual meetings.

If I felt something wasn’t clicking in the way it should be, or that we could benefit from something else, I could talk to Sarina. She always wanted to have that discussion with her players. She challenged players and she has done the same for England, switching them from a back four to a back three. Change keeps us fresh and it was never boring because we would find little things we could add to our game. She allowed us to do that.

Back in 2017, we’d only qualified for the World Cup once before. We hadn’t really played a massive role in any big tournaments. We started the Euros in the group of death: Norway, Belgium and Denmark. We would have been happy just to get out of it. But Sarina told us that we had the quality to beat anyone if everything clicked. Why couldn’t we go and win the Euros?

The biggest thing for a group is to have a coach that tells you that you are good enough to win the whole thing. Continuously, she made sure we did believe in ourselves. She created a safety bubble for us and took away anything outside our camp that put us under pressure.



How Sarina Wiegman manages - by those who’ve experienced it

It was never, though, put in a way that made us feel under pressure; it was almost in a motherly way. “I’m here if you need anything, but you don’t need me because you are good enough.”

Players can get nervous in tournaments, but when a coach prepares you as well as Sarina does, you just trust them and do what you do. Our Dutch teams were independent and experienced, but knew when we lacked in confidence that we had Sarina to fall back on. I hope she felt like she could fall back on us, too.

Part of that is making sure there’s a good balance in the camp between the training and down time. We’d have a tactical meeting, and after she’d send Arjan out to play ping pong with us.

Before each tournament, she brought in an object. She would go: “This is my object for this tournament. If you guys want to add anything else to it, then please do.”


Wiegman rallies England during the last-16 match against Nigeria (Photo: PATRICK HAMILTON/AFP via Getty Images)

She brought a teddy bear to the Euros and a coffee cup to the Olympics in Tokyo — each reminded her of home. For the World Cup, she brought in her Euros medal as motivation. By asking us to add things to them, she made a literal memory lane. At the Olympics, we went to a rice field box. When we ended the tournament, we had all these things that told the stories of what we’d done together. It created more meaning behind our experiences.

The night before the Euro 2017 final, the staff played us a video of all the fans outside the stadiums; the fan walks with the streets covered in orange. That was probably the first time any of us really realised what it was like for everyone living in Holland and how many people were aware of us playing a final.

Generally, though, our team meetings the night before matches focused on tactics. Things were black and white and that took the emotion out of it all. Sarina would then leave us be and give us space to do what we need to do. Arjan might play games with the girls and keep things relaxed and help dissolve our nerves. The key message was always: “Regardless of whatever happens around you, you’re good enough. You just have to believe within yourself.”

On final day, managers know there’s not much more they can do. We’d have a team walk beforehand and Sarina would speak to some individuals then. All she can do is nail that last chat before going out before the first whistle and let the players do what they need to in the meantime. It’s a cliche but she made those 2017 and 2019 finals feel like normal matches. We didn’t feel like we were going to play the biggest games of our lives.

When we played Denmark in the Euro 2017 final, I just knew we weren’t going to lose that game. Even when we conceded a penalty after five minutes, we all just looked at each other, looked at Sarina and Arjan on the sidelines, and knew we were fine. We knew we’d turn it around. That comes back to the trust and confidence we had in one another, and our preparation. Had we gone 2-0 down, we knew what that would look like and what we’d have to do.

Sarina sets her goals and then tries to keep everything around it as simple as possible. You can see that in how she’s dealt with Lauren James’ red card against Nigeria. If someone asks her about it, she’ll be honest, give them a sentence and that’s it. There’s nothing more to it, and no big confusion at all. That helps her to be focused on the goal, but it also helps the team. We never had to be worried about what the media said or thought because she would tell us her thoughts before she would tell the press.

From speaking to Beth, it sounds like Sarina has changed a little bit since I worked with her. From a coach who’d never had a national team job before and stepped into a new, strict environment, she’s loosened up in a lot of ways: from how she deals with the media to how she is allowing herself to actually enjoy tournaments.

She always looks really calm. Sometimes I wonder if that’s because she’s done it all with us before and has won things already. Maybe her sister’s passing has made her realise all she has done and that what she’s doing right now is pretty special. Why do you always need to be neutral or always need to be focused on the next thing?

I mean, she will still be focused on the next thing, but she is allowing herself to be happy. This tournament hasn’t been as straightforward as the last one. Good on her for actually being able to show her emotions and celebrate.

_ (Top photo: Alex Pantling – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)_