Stuart Barker investigates the credentials of the Dutch former footballer as she emerges as the front-runner for the Lionesses job.
It’s been just under four months since Phil Neville and the Football Association announced that the former Manchester United Assistant would be leaving his role once his contract expires. For a long time, the front-runners for the role had been Manchester United’s Casey Stoney, Chelsea’s Emma Hayes, and former US boss, Jill Ellis. In the last few days credible reports have emerged that the current Netherlands boss, Sarina Wiegman, is favourite to succeed Neville.
Last month, the FA revealed it had 142 applicants for the job, with the Head of Women’s Football, Baroness Sue Campbell, saying: “The players deserve the best and I want to get them the best if I can.”
Wiegman is a former Netherlands midfielder and occasional defender. She collected 104 caps for her country, scoring three goals between 1987 and 2001.
She broke into the national team when she was sixteen years old. Recounting her early career, she told Coaches Voice: “A year after I first played for the Netherlands, we went to China, where FIFA was holding a tournament to test out whether they should hold a Women’s World Cup.
“In the end, we lost to Brazil – unnecessarily, I still think. But we really grew into that tournament. It showed that when we had more opportunities to train and better facilities, we were a pretty good team, even then.
“It was in China that I first met Anson Dorrance. He was head coach of the US Women’s National Team and led the women’s soccer programme at the University of North Carolina.” Wiegman later attended the university between 1989 and 1990, winning the NCAA Division One Women’s Soccer Championship.
She cites that time as being hugely important her: “The year I spent there changed my life. It changed my mindset. You felt that the coaches wanted to make you work hard and develop as a player, but that they also wanted to take care of you.
“Anson was very focused on competitiveness, but he was also interested in you as a human being. Not just as a soccer player. He wanted to make it like a little family, and you could feel that.”
When Den Haag approached Weigman about becoming the coach on a semi-professional basis she declined, advising that it would have to be a full-time role or she would not be interested. At that point in her life she was both a mother and a school teacher, so adding that role would have been too much.
Fortunately Den Haag listened and gave her the job on a full-time basis. Wiegman also took the gamble by giving up her role as a school teacher. The gamble paid off as the club won the National Championship in 2012, as well as the KNVB Cup in 2012 and 2013. This formed a hat-trick of KNVB Cup wins for Wiegman, as she’d also won the competition with Ter Leede in 2007.
In 2014, Wiegman became assistant manager of the Dutch national team before eventually becoming the head coach in 2016. Under her tenure, the Netherlands won the European Championship in 2017 and reached the World Cup final last summer.
Wiegman is a proven winner who is very popular amongst a strong Dutch squad that includes the likes of the Arsenal pair Danielle Van De Donk and Vivianne Miedema.
While Wiegman might not have initially been an obvious candidate, she has the pedigree to succeed. If selected as the next Lionesses manager, however, her start date might prove complicated: she may also be expected to take charge of Team GB, in the role that Neville was also due to fill. Neville’s contract expires midway through the Tokyo 2021 Olympics, a tournament which Wiegman is also expected to take part in with the Netherlands.
With increased leaks coming from the FA recently, an announcement of the chosen candidate – and its effects on the Lionesses and Team GB – should be soon on the horizon.
Follow Stuart on Twitter at @_chubarker