Deep underneath Wembley and away from where England’s party was really beginning to kick off, Sarina Wiegman seemed to lean in as she shared one of the secrets behind their historic success. A manager who has made not only a transformative effect on this team but English football as a whole by guiding the Lionesses to their first major international title, did so while naming the same starting line-up throughout Euro 2022, and she was about to reveal how.
Firstly, there are reasons this had never been done before in the history of the European Championships, and why a manager may choose to change one of their starting 11 at least once when there are another 12 waiting, hungry and desperate, for the same opportunity. Although out of a manager’s control, fitness and injuries are a key reason, and it’s certainly an area where England had good fortune compared to other countries at Euro 2022.
It spoke of Wiegman’s vision and the respect she has earned throughout her squad, however, that she could name an unchanged team for six matches in a row without there being disharmony in the England camp, or a repeat of the same sort of dissatisfaction that may have derailed previous team’s bids in the past 56 years.
Wiegman’s secret? Before the tournament, she would tell every member of her squad of the role they would have at the Euros, and she would do so upfront and early. It was a bold decision, but one that allowed each player to understand the part they would play before a ball was kicked. It meant that when England were struggling, their strength on the bench could count, and Wiegman’s plan was ultimately rewarded as her substitutes again made decisive impacts at Wembley.
This was the genius of Wiegman’s calm yet ruthless leadership, and just what the FA wanted when they appointed a proven winner 10 months ago. The former Netherlands manager arrived with an excellent track record, having guided her county to the Euro 2017 title and 2019 World Cup final and commanded instant respect amongst a talented squad who until that point had lacked the cohesion and clarity that Wiegman has been able to deliver.
Frankly, it has taken a manager of Wiegman’s calibre and calculating personality to cut through a lot of the noise that for so long has followed England’s quest to end all the years of under-achievement. Throughout the Euros, Wiegman scowled at mentions of pressure and expectation, as if firing the question back while deconstructing the significance we allow such words to carry. She dismissed the suggestion that football was coming home. Wiegman arrived in English football uninhibited by the pain of its recent past and in the end taught it how to do the same.
Her pre-match press conference revealed a lot, too. She paid tribute to her late sister who died in June, just weeks before the start of the tournament, dedicating England’s victory to her. In between admitting to drinking her first beer in years and the England players crashing into the room, dancing on the table in front of her, she spoke of a victory that stood for much more than football. Their world has changed now, Wiegman said, as she highlighted the impact England’s triumph has already made on women and society.
She spoke of the women who had come before. From the “trailblazers” who rebuilt the game in 1971 after the 50-year ban of women playing football in the United Kingdom was lifted, to the England team of 2009 and their previous manager Hope Powell, who led the Lionesses to their last appearance in a major final. While everyone else was talking about the impact her England team had made at Wembley, Wiegman told them all to remember those who had pointed the way.
This is only the start for England and Wiegman but it has been a perfect marriage. Before her appointment, Wiegman looked at England and saw a squad who had benefited from the development of the Women’s Super League since the previous World Cup and were on the cusp of potentially creating something special at the home Euros. In turn, the Lionesses looked at Wiegman and saw a manager they could trust, even when she was delivering with direct and brutal honesty that the reality of their role at the Euros may not have matched their pre-tournament expectations.
“She believed in us,” said Beth Mead, as she sat alongside the Euro 2022 golden boot and player of the tournament trophies that spoke of the levels to her game she has discovered under Wiegman. “She makes us feel so valued,” continued Keira Walsh, who was named player of the match in England’s greatest ever win, before adding, “And that’s everyone who comes onto the pitch.”
And that, ultimately, was what won England the Euros. Chloe Kelly and Ella Toone scored the decisive goals at Wembley after having come on from the bench. Alessia Russo may have felt aggrieved to not start the final after her sublime introduction against Sweden in the semi-finals but made another positive impact. As did Alex Greenwood, who more than anyone else had reason to be upset with Wiegman after she was ousted from the starting line-up at the last moment before the tournament.
“When your role is clear you can know what to accept,” Wiegman explained. “That is all I ask, and demand actually, for them to do. But we also had to live our words and that’s what makes this team so strong. We kept it every game the same, which is pretty amazing too.”
It was, though, the plan all along.