Sarina Wiegman says she will “do everything” to beat Team GB if her Netherlands side meet them in the Olympics next year, as the 50-year-old gave a taste of the qualities that have seen her appointed as England Women’s new manager.
In her first appearance since taking the job Wiegman said she would not be judged by whether the Lionesses win a major tournament but by whether “we play the best game we can play” in the key fixtures that have proven the stumbling block for England in recent seasons.
With Baroness Sue Campbell, the FA head of women’s football, praising her abilities as a “people person” and her “steely” approach to getting results, Wiegman was comfortable as she addressed the challenges ahead. She will assume the role from Phil Neville next autumn after taking the Oranje to the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics.
Asked about a potential conflict of interest should the Dutch face the British in next summer’s final, Wiegman was clear. “I will be in charge of the Netherlands and I would do everything to win that game with my team,” she said. “That’s sport, that’s part of it. I would say it was special, but still it’s a game and we want to win every game we play. There would be no conflict of interest, not at all.”
Wiegman paid tribute to the qualities of her future players and to the structure of the women’s game in England ahead of her move, but says she intends to remain in the background over the course of the next 12 months as Neville finishes his tenure with the Lionesses.
“England is the creator of football,” Wiegman said. “The England team has done very well, they’ve had major performances the last three tournaments and there’s great potential. They have developed the game very much in England and there’s a big organisation behind it. You have a professional league, there are so many players who are so talented, the facilities are great, so it’s a real challenge to make the move. But I can finish with the Dutch and that was very important to me.
“Phil has his responsibility for his team in the upcoming 12 months and I absolutely respect that,” Wiegman added. “I’ll get some information but I’ll be pretty much in the background and the last thing I would want to do is interfere in his work. Of course I will have a close look because I will jump in next autumn. Maybe in the future there will be a transition and I will talk more closely with Phil, but I don’t want to interrupt him or be a pain for him.”
Wiegman said she had very quickly found herself on the “same page” as Campbell during her interview, with Campbell effusive in her praise of the former Dutch international, who won 104 caps for her country and coached them to success at the 2017 European Championship.
“We thought she would fit perfectly with our culture and our squad,” Campbell said. “Number one she is a people person. In her interview she made it very clear she places utmost importance in building the right relationships with both her players, her support team and the people involved in the game.
“The second attribute is that Sarina is steely. She’s a winner. She pays enormous attention to detail whether she’s planning a game or looking at player insight. We know she will provide honest feedback and take those tough decisions when they have to be made. Finally, she has proven she can stand toe to toe with the very best in the world technically and tactically. We’re really excited to have her on board.”
The FA’s stated ambition for the Lionesses is to win a major tournament but after falling at the semi-finals at both last year’s World Cup and the 2017 Euros, the last step has proven the hardest to take. Wiegman, switching between “they” and “we”, was quick to observe that the changes needed in order to lift a trophy are not entirely within her control, however.
“England has a very good team, and in terms of potential they have such a good team that we could win tournaments,” she said. “Everything that’s within our control we will influence in a good way. At least we will try to. But you also have to deal with other countries who are developing very much too. You can’t say ahead that you’re going to win this or that. It could be a final that you hopefully win but could lose also. Then you look at it and ask: ‘Did we play the best game we can play?’ That’s the question for me.”