- Sarina Wiegman won The Best FIFA Women’s Coach Award last year
- Her team won the European title and are unbeaten in World Cup qualifying
- Wiegman looks back on five key stages in her football journey
It’s easy to forget, given the stylish manner in which they won the European title last year, that the Netherlands are a recent arrival at women’s football’s top table. Before that superb UEFA Women’s EURO triumph, the Dutch had only ever qualified for three major tournaments, and not been title contenders in any of them.
The team's star players and coach, Sarina Wiegman, enjoyed a similarly meteoric rise to prominence on back of their EURO conquest. While Wiegman was a fine player with over 100 caps to her name and a respected coach, she had not been widely known outside her homeland or the realms of women’s football. Even now, not everyone will know the full story of last year’s The Best FIFA Women’s Coach Award 2017, who has been nominated to defend her trophy this year.
So, who is the mastermind behind the Leeuwinnen revolution? And what experiences have shaped her as a coach? FIFA.com spoke to Wiegman herself to find out.
With no girls teams to play in, Wiegman had to trick her way into playing in boys’ sides with her twin brother to further her passion in football.
“I cut my hair really short, so as to not stand out. Even then, it didn’t always work and there were problems just to get a game. When I see how the situation has completely changed here in the Netherlands, I’m so happy and excited about it. It’s a great feeling to have been a part of that change. Girls have so many more opportunities and facilities now to play the game. We can still be better, of course, and there’s always work to do to improve the prospects for the next generations. But when I compare it to when I started out, the change is incredible.”
In 1989, aged 19, Wiegman accepted an offer from former USA coach Anson Dorrance to join the women’s soccer programme at the University of North Carolina, where she played with the likes of Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly.
“That really inspired me. It was like a football paradise. In the Netherlands, I had been in a situation – due to my studies and the football landscape at that time – where playing football at a good level was literally impossible. There were no prospects. But as soon as I arrived in the US, I saw a totally different environment where good players had the opportunities to properly develop. It was inspirational for me to see the possibilities there, and my dream from that moment was to see the same situation back home.”
Wiegman returned from the US to find that “nothing had changed” in her homeland and, faced with resistance and apathy, took up teaching.
“Teaching has helped me become the coach I am today, but there was no real option at that stage because there was no way to make a career in football in the Netherlands. But when things are not easy, you have to test yourself and work hard to come up with solutions. All the challenges I’ve experienced help me to advise my players too whenever they come up against any difficulties.”
A risk that paid off
In 2007, Wiegman left the security of teaching to become coach of ADO Den Haag in the embryonic Eredivisie Vrouwen.
“It was definitely a risk but, all the same, I wouldn’t say it was a tough decision because I was pursuing my dream and my passion. It was a risk I was happy to take in that respect, and my husband really supported me. We had two children at the time already, so there were responsibilities to think of and discuss. But he said, ‘This is your dream. You have to go for it.’ And I’m very glad I did!”
The big breakthrough
In 2017, Wiegman led the Netherlands to a stylish, wildly celebrated title triumph in the UEFA Women’s EURO.
“That has been my best achievement, of course, and the impact it has had has been just fantastic. Things had been beginning to change in the Netherlands already, and us winning the EURO just gave everything a big extra boost. We know how important it is to keep that going and, for us, that means qualifying for the World Cup is essential. We need to keep building on the enthusiasm that the EURO established.”