Sarina Wiegman: A Plan of Action

Thursday, 16 September 2021

A look at Sarina Wiegman's inaugural England camp and the key issues that must be addressed.

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via Lionesses [Twitter]

After another disappointing term under interim coach Hege Riise, the Lionesses finally find themselves under fixed new management. Former Netherlands coach Sarina Wiegman has now officially taken charge of England’s national side. Wiegman’s track record as a national team coach is undisputed. Under her leadership, the Dutch side won the Euros in 2017 as the host nation and were runners up in the Women’s World Cup in 2019. Wiegman joins the Lionesses at a possibly one of the most pivotal times in their history. England will host the European Championships next summer and this will be followed up by the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand the year after. In addition to these are a set of upcoming World Cup qualifiers plus the newly revealed Round Robin style tournament that is to take place on home soil early next year. With an imminently brimming international calendar, Wiegman is tasked with configuring her suited squad in a rather inexorable time frame. Further to this comes the pressing matter of the national side’s stagnation since their World Cup semi-final defeat in 2019. In what has manifested in to the world’s longest hangover, nothing has quite clicked for the Lionesses in their last two terms under managers Phil Neville and Hege Riise. Although it may be argued that performances have not worsened, it is not unrealistic to state that they certainly have not improved. This alone is a concerning factor, yet becomes far more bothersome when considering the advances other national sides have demonstrated. Essentially, the strategies Wiegman implements over the next couple of months will be crucial. Key issues must be addressed sooner rather than later if the Lionesses stand to compete with the best.
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via Lionesses [Twitter]

Perhaps one of the most persistent topics of conversation is England’s defensive organisation. It has become almost customary at times to spot the holes left by the back four or to count the panicked blunders caused by a miscommunication. These are customs one is certainly keen to break. Aware of their repeated shortcoming, captain Steph Houghton notes that defensive standards have not been up to scratch recently. “It’s important that we get in that habit of defending our goal and enjoying nobody scoring against us, and it’s something that we needed to work [over] the last couple of years.” Of Wiegman’s chosen 25-player squad is a selection of nine defenders, as well as Arsenal centre half Leah Williamson, who for the purposes of this particular camp has been named as a midfielder. Lotte Wubben-Moy, Niamh Charles and Jess Carter have been called upon alongside the more familiar faces of Houghton, Millie Bright, Demi Stokes and Alex Greenwood. Presented with options at the back, a key responsibility of Wiegman’s will be establishing a concurrent defensive union. This will include electing a preferred centre back pairing. Currently Houghton regularly features as England’s right sided centre back, with Bright or Williamson typically serving on the left. However, neither Bright nor Williamson fill the left sided role for their domestic clubs. Wiegman will need to face the centre back dilemma head on, possibly with the view to create a harmonious left side – right side dynamic. With these two fixtures an opportune time to test the waters, left footed Greenwood should certainly be on Wiegman’s radar in filling the left position, as should youngster Wubben-Moy.
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via Lionesses [Twitter]

When speculating these transitions that will inevitably take place, it is difficult to gauge the correct time to begin shifting towards a suggestive future. Herein lies another of Wiegman’s conundrums; youth versus experience. It is a balance for which her predecessors have strived yet seemingly failed. Of course, there are arguments to be made on both sides of the coin here. A set of seasoned internationals are accustomed to the expected quality and the pressures of the world stage. Yet a set of youthful players are fresh with ideas and ambition and will form the basis of the international squad further down the line. Over the past two years, there has been a gradual increase of younger players in the England squad, yet for the most part, this cohort have acquired a relatively low number of caps. Movement towards a new generation of Lionesses must be phased and there should be no immediate expectation to see a drastically different starting line-up. However, appearances must soon be made and roles must be continue to be evaluated for the good of the long term.
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via Lionesses [Twitter]

Before addressing on-field logistics, it appears Wiegman has first addressed the weighted pressures both the fanbase and indeed players themselves have set upon the team. Speaking to the media earlier this week, Manchester City’s Georgia Stanway reflected upon the previous ambitions of the team and how they set out to regenerate a stalled form. “We have to improve, absolutely. How many times can you go to a major tournament and be knocked out before the final? We’ve been to the World Cup and the Olympics, gone there saying we are going to lift the trophy and we are going to win a gold medal. And how many times do we fall short?” “It’s one game at a time, not talking about whether we've got a Euros or a World Cup to win. Let’s stop looking that far ahead and take it step by step with Sarina.” An approach to focus on short term goals whilst remaining mindful of longevity may well be the best step forward for a team that has become muddled on its way. Using this camp as “a starting point”, Wiegman is keen to enjoy her opening game and to walk this journey a step at a time; no running, no jumping, no pressure. “There’s not pressure, we just really want to do very well, we want to have a good game, show the fans in the stadium and watching TV how good we are, hopefully that brings a lot of goals. So everyone has a nice evening, that’s what we want” Sarina, that is all we want too.

Women's Football, Lionesses, England, Sarina Wiegman