Sarina Wiegman — Coaching Philosophy
Sarina Petronella Wiegman, also known as Sarina Wiegman-Glotzbach, is a Dutch football manager and former player who has been manager of the England women’s national team since September 2021. During her playing career, Wiegman started out as a central midfielder later becoming a defender.
Wiegman was born in the Hague, in 1969, and is married to Marten Glotzbach, a youth football coach, with whom she has two daughters.
It was on the streets of the Hague that Wiegman first discovered football, playing alongside her twin brother as there were no girls-only teams. She was called up by the Netherlands for the first time in 1986, aged 16, and later moved to the US for a year to study and play football at the University of North Carolina (UNC).
Dorrance, Wiegman’s university coach, says one of his most striking memories of the Dutchwoman came a few years after she had left the US. His US team had won the World Cup in 1991 and he was invited to give a talk to a group of Dutch coaches in Zeist — the training centre for the national team. He says he presented his philosophy — technical testing to show how skilful a player is — but the concept did not go down well among his audience.
“All I can remember from that Zeist experience is poor Sarina basically absorbing the blows with me, and I could see the consternation on her face,” he says.
“To some extent she was embarrassed about the way I was treated. I’ve never forgotten that. I still have a wonderful picture of her compassionate face looking up at me, just hoping that her colleagues would give me a break.”
For the former Netherlands international Leonne Stentler, that human side sets Wiegman apart from other coaches she worked with during her career.
“She really feels what players need — and makes sure you feel warm and welcome and open to say anything to her. If I was in a really bad situation, I could tell her without any consequences. And that feeling of openness is not very common in coaches. I definitely had moments where I was not happy with Sarina but when I look back at my career she was the best coach, the best human, in my career.”
Wiegman combined her playing career with teaching PE, then started football coaching when she retired as a player. When the Women’s Eredivisie was created in 2007 she landed her first full-time job as a coach at ADO Den Haag, having initially turned it down when it was offered on a semi-professional basis.
Leonne Stentler was one of the players Wiegman took to ADO Den Haag in her first season there.
“I didn’t know what to expect but she was really warm, so I felt totally welcomed,” says Stentler. “The way she welcomed me and the way she talked about how she wanted to do it was warm but really ambitious.”
Stentler recalls an unusual rule early in her time there that meant nobody in the team was allowed to take a drink of water by themselves — it had to be done together.
“At first she was a hard coach with a lot of rules, and during the first year she made so many changes and worked on herself,” she says.
“I know she reads a lot of management books so that was what she was doing and we experienced all the exercises she read about. We really felt the development of ourselves, but also the development of herself.”
Wiegman spent seven years at the club, but Stentler says those first few months were the biggest learning period for the future England coach.
After seven years at Den Haag, Wiegman became assistant coach of the Netherlands national team. She also wanted to keep developing as a coach, so became one of a handful of Dutchwomen to earn the Uefa Pro Licence. As part of the requirements of her Pro Licence course, Wiegman needed to do an internship. She wrote to Sparta Rotterdam head coach Alex Pastoor, asking if she could do some coaching at his club — a men’s team in the Dutch second tier.
Pastoor says Wiegman — the first female coach on his team — was “so serious” about her work.
“She had the experience of playing herself,” he says. “The tactical things, we all discussed together. She took part in it and saw the same things we saw.
“As a coach, you need to have a certain leadership and authority, and this was something she had when she was leading parts of the training.”
When the season finished, Pastoor asked Wiegman to return as assistant to the under-23 team, making her the first female coach in Dutch professional football. That was cut short, however, when the national team required more of her time.
Wiegman twice stepped up as interim head coach of the Netherlands before taking the job permanently in January 2017. She won the Euros seven months later, and led the team to the World Cup final in 2019. She took over as England manager in September 2021.
Under Sarina Wiegman, the Netherlands have played an attacking style of football, always looking to get players into dangerous areas of the pitch and ask questions of opposing defenders. The first aspect of this is their use of the wings to help move the ball up the pitch.
This is a regular feature of their play, and ensures they always have options to move the ball to when the central areas have been closed off. It also forces the opposing defenders to stretch out, meaning they will leave gaps open between themselves, as Norway have in this image. The defensive line is set up to occupy the central spaces, but the Dutch attack has given them a difficult choice; either allow them to dominate the wide channels, or get out to them and give the central attackers the opportunity to break through the middle of them. The indecision this creates is the reason that teams always look to have width in attack, and Wiegman is yet another coach who encourages her team to play this way.
One very noticeable feature is that she tends to put players in positions that suit their strengths, but that aren’t necessarily where they play their club football. For example, Arsenal Women centre-back Leah Williamson, who has captained the team in the absence of Steph Houghton, has tended to operate as a midfielder for the national team, as her excellent ball distribution has led to Wiegman seeing her as more of a deep-lying playmaker. Manchester United Women’s Ella Toone has tended to be a playmaker behind the front line, as she was last season at Leigh Sports Village under Casey Stoney, whereas she has this season played as a left-sided attacker or a false nine under Marc Skinner.
This flexibility has led to England using spaces more efficiently, with players knowing where they can affect the game, and this situation shows Jill Scott, in between the Spanish players, looking to set up an opportunity further forward. With players using these spaces, England have been able to keep the ball moving forwards much more, maintaining their attacking momentum. As this was a key aspect of the Netherlands’ play during Wiegman’s time in charge there, it is evident that she has implemented this movement and confidence, and it is really benefitting them.
Sarina Wiegman likes to keep the ball on the ground when transitioning from defence to attack, and has a clear emphasis on creating passing options around the pitch.
Here, you can see how they have the ball in their own half of the pitch, with three players circled, all offering passing options. Whilst the defender and winger are normal options to have, the player in the middle has dropped back to provide a link between the defence and midfield, helping the team to move the ball through the middle and into the forwards. There is a gap between the two Norwegian attackers, which that player has seen, and this demonstrates how the Dutch players are expected to have excellent spatial awareness during games. The speed at which these options are created means that individual players never need to hold onto the ball for longer than is necessary, decreasing the risk of them being closed down and losing the ball in a dangerous part of the pitch.
Out of possession under Wiegman’s leadership, players mindset instantly turns to defence, and that starts with the forwards. Spain looked to play out from the back in the early stages of this game, and so England used Manchester City striker Ellen White’s natural instinct of playing on the front foot to apply pressure and dictate where their opponents passed the ball to.
However, this in itself didn’t win back possession, as Spain are very capable of simply moving the ball around individual players and out of danger. Therefore, the three players behind White had just as important a role in these situations, as they were the ones who took time away from the player receiving the ball. Now, because they couldn’t turn and move it forwards, Spain had to pass the ball back towards their own goal area, as the red lines show, which was where England pounced. When in this structure, the Lionesses knew that they only needed to be patient and wait for the chance to arrive.
Defending was something that England needed to work on after Wiegman’s arrival, and this level of organisation and anticipation is the result of the work she has done with them on the training ground. England kept four clean sheets while conceding only two goals against Spain and Germany over the whole Euros.
With the Netherlands playing such an attacking brand of football, defending is not their strength. That is not to say that they are poor at it, as they have good structures when their opponents have possession, but it is not something they focus on as much as they do their attack.
Sarina Wiegman likes to play a 4–2–3–1 formation, with a basic four-player back line. However, as this image shows, only three stay back all the time, with one of the full-backs getting forward to support the attacks, as we have already discussed. The role of the full-back left behind is to ensure that the centre-backs don’t become isolated and to stop the attackers playing around them. Once the Netherlands lose possession, as they have here against Italy, the full-back who went forward drops back into the line, filling the space they left, and this changing defensive shape again requires good spatial awareness; two qualities we know Wiegman demands her players have.
It might appear that the defenders sit back and wait for their opponents to run at them with the ball, but they actually look to close down attackers whenever they have an opportunity to do so. Here, Germany have the ball on the nearside wing, with one Dutch player running from the box to put pressure on her, taking time away and forcing the attacker to make a quicker decision than they would have liked. This increases the chance of a mistake being made, so the Netherlands maintain control of their own area when they aren’t in possession, which is important. The angle of the defender’s run also means that the ball has a narrow corridor through which it can travel into the box, so, again, the Dutch players’ ability to close the ball down decreases their opponents’ options.
Under Wiegman, we saw both Netherlands and England try to outscore their opponents, rather than sitting back and trying to be tough to beat at the back.
There has been a change in approach, according to the Chelsea manager Emma Hayes. Since Sarina took charge last September, England’s approach has moved away from a huge science-based approach to be football-based, which was needed. So it’s now less about the sports science data and more about the tactical application of a football philosophy that was absolutely required. She’s done that exceptionally well. She wants everything to be about football actions, not the gym. Of course, you need to be strong and robust as players and the science helps a lot, but her priority is not ‘fitter, faster, stronger’, which was the methodology of previous years — this is about being tactically better at every level. You can see those tactical differences. England are more patient than I’ve ever seen them.
The final of Euro really showed how dominated England has been throughout this tournment and how Wiegman has changed their fortune in both attacking and defensive phases of the game. This was the first time England Womens have won a major tournament. Wiegman also has now won consecutive Women’s European Championship with two different teams. The performance has shown this is the start of something special under Wiegman.
“This tournament has done so much for the game but also for women in society, I don’t think we’ve really realised what we’ve done. Over the whole tournament we’ve had so much support from our fans. We did an incredible job and I’m so proud of my team.” — Sarina Wiegman
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