Wednesday, September 6, 2023

England manager Sarina Wiegman had to pretend to be a boy to play football, led Lionesses to European glory and now eyeing World Cup title

England head to the 2023 Women’s World Cup as one of the best teams and a lot of that is to do with Sarina Wiegman.

The Lionesses were the favourites to win the 2022 Euros on home soil and duly delivered as football finally came ‘home‘.

Wiegman led the Netherlands to Euro glory in 2017 before repeating the same trick last year with England.

She has never lost a game in the Euros as a manager, but her attention is now switched firmly to the World Cup in New Zealand and Australia.

The 53-year-old became a sensation in England overnight after guiding her talented squad to eternal glory.

Speaking to the England website after the dust had settled, she said:

“We won the cup, and it is just unbelievable.

“If you really want to win, really want to become better every single day, you can do it and that is what I have noticed the whole year.

“We agreed on a couple of things about behaviour and they weren’t just words, we lived it and this is the result.

“It’s just incredible, they want to do it together.”

Given the transformative nature of their tenures, Wiegman has earned comparisons to Gareth Southgate, which also extend back to their playing days, with both international defenders in their heydays.

Yet it was a lot more of an arduous journey for the Lioness chief, who had to pretend to be a boy to play football as a child in the Netherlands.

“When I started playing football as a six-year-old girl we weren’t allowed to play, so I played illegally,” she told BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast.

Wiegman added: “I had very short hair, looked a little bit maybe like a boy, my parents were really OK and I had a twin brother, so we just started to play and everyone said that’s OK.

“It wasn’t normal then and now it’s just normal, whether you’re a boy or a girl, you can play football and that’s just great.

“It was actually crazy before, that you couldn’t, but that’s just the way it is in development I guess.”

As a player, she was handed her international debut at just 17 years old by former Sunderland boss Dick Advocaat in his only game in charge.

Wiegman went onto to become the first Dutch female centurion with an appearance against Denmark in 2001.

After hanging up her boots two years later she juggled football coaching with a job as a PE teacher until the creation of the Women’s Eredivisie in 2007.

From there, Wiegman led ADO Den Haag but her first season in charge proved difficult as the club finished fourth out of six teams.

Sarina Wiegman profile

Full name: Sarina Wiegman-Glotzbach
Date of birth: 26 October 1969 (age 52)
Place of birth: The Hague, Netherlands
Player honours: KNVB Cup (1986–87, 2000–01), NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship (1989), Dutch championship: 2000–01, 2002–03
Manager honours: Dutch championship (2006–07), KNVB Cup (2006–07, 2011–12, 2012–13), Eredivisie (2011–12), UEFA Women’s Euros (2017, 2022), Finalissima (2023)

Leonne Stentler, who played under Wiegman, told the Mail: “Her eyes can spit fire.

“If she’s mad, you will always see. Not like yelling so the whole stadium can hear but she can get mad in her own way.

“But she’s really warm, too. She’s always interested in what’s happening in your life.”

Wiegman struck a balance between the two at Den Haag quickly and her side finished second for three successive seasons before doing the double in 2012.

“That’s Sarina,” added Stentler. “She’s always trying to be better.”

Wiegman’s constant strive for success meant it wasn’t long before she became a trailblazer as a coach as well as a player.

In 2016, the England boss became the first woman to coach with a men’s professional club in her homeland – helping Sparta Rotterdam finish seventh during her season-long spell as an assistant.

Writing in Coaches’ Voice, she said: “The players had to get used to me and I had to get used to them, too.

“As the only female coach there, I knew I had to show that I had quality. That’s what I worked on all day. Work hard, put quality into everything and deliver.

“It was a new environment for me – the first time I was working with a professional men’s team.

“At first, I was always asking myself: am I doing the right things? But I observed how Alex and his coaches worked. Figured things out.”

Since succeeding Phil Neville as England gaffer, Wiegman has been relatively untroubled on the pitch, winning 26 of her 32 games.

However, Wiegman has faced a series of off-field hardships, with her sister’s sad passing on the eve of the 2022 Euros.

Although she was touched by her England players’ decision to wear black armbands during the 3-0 win over Belgium last year.

Wiegman said: “They have supported me so much. The captains came to me and asked if we could wear the armbands.

“They are such good human beings, and it shows the togetherness of the team. It was a great gesture. My sister would be proud.”

Those good human beings became icons last year, and if Wiegman was to lead the Lionesses to World Cup glory this year, they would need to start building her statue.

Wiegman is now preparing her team for the World Cup

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England manager Sarina Wiegman has come out of one of the most remarkable journeys in international football. Born in the Netherlands, Wiegman had a dream of playing the beautiful game from a young age, but found out the hard way that her gender was an obstruction.

When she was seven, the vibrant youngster pretended to be a boy in order to compete in the sport she craved. Wisely, her parents were supportive of their daughter’s ambitions and allowed her to wear her brother’s kit and even cut her hair short by her own accord.

Obviously, she was able to enjoy the game without the fear of being ostracized and spent most of her teenage years with her local club. She also represented her country in the World Cup, reaching the semi-finals before eventually leaving professional football in 1999.

However, her passion never waned and she soon transitioned to a technical director role with the Dutch FA. Her presence was felt almost immediately as the Netherlands women’s team enjoyed unprecedented success—including a UEFA Women’s Championship in 2017 and a 2018 World Cup bronze medal.

Now, as England’s manager, Wiegman has the Lionesses one victory away from a long-awaited continental title. She is also hopeful that the team can get one step closer to her ultimate ambition of winning a FIFA Women’s World Cup title.

Wiegman’s incredible journey tracks the history of women’s football. It is a story of dedication and fortitude which has gone on to inspire a new generation of young footballers. Her terrific tenacity and determination will continue to serve as an example to those with ambitions of playing the beautiful game.

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