SOCCER

Wiegman the lowly alchemist made England a formidable unit | Sarina Wiegman

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“EEnglish people can drink! exclaimed Sarina Wiegman the morning after the night before. “A bit too much booze I think. But it’s okay, we had a blast. When you have those achievements, it’s really good to have a party.

It was a passage that summed up the England manager pretty well. Wiegman can come across as an austere, stern figure on the touchline and her professional demeanor has quickly taken hold of the new European champions since her arrival last September. But there’s a much lighter side too, and that’s been evident in the way his side play: industry paving the way for invention and the kind of fulfillment that sent England into a night that was worth the sunglasses and the headache.

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She achieved the unprecedented feat of back-to-back continental titles with different countries and no one does it just by playing bad cop. It is true that unsentimental decisions helped shape his victories in 2017 and 2022; few will need to remember how she let down her captain, Mandy van den Berg, five years ago, five years ago, and Steph Houghton’s omission raised many eyebrows. But Wiegman created the happiest and most tight-knit English side in recent memory and it helped them achieve huge results when, like against Spain and in Sunday’s final, games risked slipping away from them .

“She’s the missing ingredient that England have been looking for,” captain Leah Williamson told a huge crowd in Trafalgar Square after the team took the stage. “She brought us all together. She is a special person and puts us first as human beings.

It has been a common refrain. Wiegman has transformed the way England players interact with each other, with Beth Mead among those who pointed out that honesty and mutual respect have grown in tandem since his arrival. “We’re convinced now that what we say to each other is for the best and it won’t come out of the group – it’s become easy to talk to each other,” Mead said ahead of the final.

It is priceless when difficult words have to be offered; it also adds another dimension to the level of enjoyment players can take from winning through monumental collective effort. The Dutch dressing room has a reputation for being outspoken and, along with his national team and his adopted country, Wiegman has transferred the best elements from there.

“She wants everyone to be on the same page,” said Baroness Sue Campbell, the Football Association’s director of women’s football. “When we interviewed her, we knew we were getting the best tactical and technical coach in the world. What we didn’t know was that we were getting this exceptional human being. Campbell admitted that she thought winning the Euro 2022 could be a tall order for Wiegman given the timing of his appointment; perhaps the idea they employed of an alchemist sounded too good to be true.

England’s Alessia Russo and Ella Toone celebrate with the trophy at Wembley Photograph: Lynne Cameron/The FA/Getty Images

Given the difficulty of England’s 50-year journey so far, however, there’s something surreal about Wiegman helping them reach their biggest milestone in just 11 months. The raw materials were present under Hope Powell, Mark Sampson and Phil Neville; all of these coaches produced at least a few results that confirmed the Lionesses’ regular presence as contenders, but none, for different reasons, could get them over the line. Wiegman has ironed out the final details to form an elegant and formidable unit and the question now is how far England can progress with her at the helm.

In 2019, Wiegman’s Dutch side failed to back up their Euro 2017 title with a stunning World Cup win. They were deservedly beaten by the United States, but it was not a disappointment: a young team was not expected to win their home tournament two years earlier, in which they put in rout a hopelessly disappointing England in the semis, and went a long shot to go the distance in France. This summer’s Round of 16 under Mark Parsons felt more like their natural resting place; no one could have taken them further, but this English generation still feels they have a distance to travel.

It can’t hurt that the next World Cup is less than a year away. England will enter it with momentum, a steely team spirit and a squad of proven operators in perhaps the strongest league on the planet. They can stay honest with a tough away game against Austria in September, knowing that a draw would guarantee them top of qualifying Group D, and then get on with the job at hand in Australia and New Zealand. Preparation for this tournament should now be at a fever pitch on these shores: Wiegman will have enjoyed a honeymoon spanning nearly two years, but there is little chance she or England will linger too long in the glow.

“The way she speaks is quite interesting,” said FA chief executive Mark Bullingham. “Because it’s not just about success on the pitch, it’s about that legacy. He’s just a really transparent person with really strong values.

The famously humble Wiegman will spend her summer vacation in a motorhome avoiding glitter and reflections. Talking about an honorary femininity can be achieved over time, but whether it touches the house is another matter. “I think she would probably refuse because she’s just not that person,” Lucy Bronze said. “I think she would be so embarrassed if we tried to push for this. We want it to be about the team and it starts with Sarina. It’s going to be hard for her to fight the attention now.

There’s still a bit of partying to do, but the feeling is that, under Wiegman, England have only just gotten to work.

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