Opinion: What challenges will Sarina Wiegman face as new Lionesses head coach?
Following Team GB's defeat at Tokyo 2020, Eurosport examine the challenges that Sarina Wiegman will face as the new Lionesses head coach. “The ambition is really clear, to win a major tournament. We believe Sarina will give us the best opportunity to do that,” said Mark Bullingham, the FA CEO upon her appointment last year.
Sarina Wiegman, Head Coach of Team Netherlands looks on prior to the Women's First Round Group F match between Netherlands and Brazil on day one of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Miyagi Stadium on July 24, 2021 in Rifu, Miyagi, Japan.
A year prior to Tokyo 2020, having already taken the job as the Lionesses head coach, Sarina Wiegman promised to “do everything” to beat an English-player dominated Team GB side if her Netherlands team met them at the Games.
Having suffered a heart-breaking extra time defeat against Australia in the quarter-finals, Team GBs women’s football team will not be get to see if the new England Women head coach, who will begin her tenure in September, would have been true to her word.
Despite not being able to face the team she vowed to beat, Tokyo 2020 has allowed Wiegman, who guided the Netherlands to victory at Euro 2017 and to the 2019 World Cup final, where they were beaten by the USA, to examine the challenges she will face when she officially takes over what she has called “a world-class team” from Phil Neville.
Team GB got off to a winning start in their football campaign at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, after making a statement on the pitch before kick-off....
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Eurosport examines just what these challenges could be.
Shaky English defence
Following their 4-2 defeat to Australia, a Team GB squad who appeared to be getting better and better will head home from Tokyo 2020 with no medals around their neck. This result was a shock to their coach Hege Riise.
She said: “We are devastated right now. It's hard to lose a game like this. We were well-prepared. We [played] most of the game quite well.
We created a lot of chances, we should probably have finished a few of them, and now it's just hard, we are all devastated.
On analysis of this shock defeat, despite being a side who refuse to give up, it is clear that fault in Team GB exasperatingly poor defence is to blame. If Wiegman is to repeat what she has achieved with the Dutch, she must make correction of this a key focus
Ellen White has had an exceptional tournament, with six goals to her name. Even in Team GBs final match, White was deft in her skill and merciless in her execution, scoring a hat-trick.
The 32-year-old was left close to tears following the match.
“Do you know what, I would have given up every single goal to win a gold medal” she explained.
I'm really proud to have contributed, to score for this team, to be part of this team, but I would have given it all up for a gold. It is what it is. I'm going home and the Australians are going through.'
“I really thought that with this group of players we would go on to win gold.
“I'm absolutely heartbroken but I couldn't be more proud of the team, the staff, we haven't been together very long but the relationships, the connections, the family-like feel, it's been amazing and I'm really proud of everyone.”
Whites stellar performance leads way to the suggestion that Wiegman will rely on the player to enable the team to succeed. This is not however a long-term solution. White is 32 years old and fast approaching a time where she is likely to retire. Wiegman must nurture her younger players in order for the Lionesses success to continue far into the future.
The current Manchester City and England captain, who was one of three co-captains in the Tokyo 2020 team, is one of the finest centre backs and leaders in the game.
Since her debut in 2007, Houghton has played for the Lionesses over 100 times. Despite her dedication to her country, Houghton’s international career is coming to an end: she is 33 years old.
Houghton’s impending retirement leads to two challenges for the new England captain: How will the side cope without Houghton and who will replace her as captain?
Recovery from Neville’s England
Neville’s England side had been floundering for a while before the decision for him to leave for Inter Miami in January was announced. The side were fragile, weak creatively and too reliant on Ellen White for goals. All of these traits have been apparent within Team GB, where England player made up the bulk of the squad.
Hege Riise has had limited time to effect any changes upon the side, leading the brunt of the work to Wiegman.
Marl Bullingham, the FA chief executive believes the Dutch coach is up to the challenge.
“The ambition is really clear, to win a major tournament. We believe Sarina will give us the best opportunity to do that,” said Mark Bullingham,
Sarina is clearly one of the best coaches in the world."
Despite faced with these challenges Wiegman takeaways from Team GBs performance at Tokyo 2020 will not be purely negative. The Olympic Games have highlighted numerous brights spots within the team:
Neville’s damage already beginning to be undone
At the 2019 World Cup, England’s fans were faced with a side who struggled to dominate team, control the game and own the ball. In Japan, Team GB have demonstrated through being a more organised side that, in her short time as coach, Riise has managed to make amends for the damage done by Neville.
Such a dramatic change, with a coach the team knew was not permanent, in just 6 months will demonstrate to Wiegman that the Lionesses are able to be repaired. For further proof she need look no further than the Australian team who defeated Team GB: in just 10 months since the departure of their controversial head coach the Aussies have reached an Olympic semi- final with their new manager.
Up until the final whistle of their quarter final match, Great Britain played with a dedication, determination and courage that should have seen then pull ahead of their competition. Even when Chelsea's Sam Kerr made the score line 4-2 to Australia early in the second half with a fine header, Team GB refused to give up, demonstrating the sides belief that they had more to give, not only to the game, but to the tournament itself.
This attitude is likely to shine through once more when the England side reunite under their new manager, and, if encouraged by Wiegman, will lead to success on the pitch for the Lionesses.
Tokyo 2020 has allowed for England's young stars to shine bright, with Leah Williamson and Lauren Hemp both demonstrating that the future of the Lionesses is in safe hands.
Hemp plays with fearlessness and drive which both secures the team she represents are successful, and excites fans. The 20-year-old has been a key player throughout the games and played a starring role in the sides opening victory, assisting the first of Ellen White’s two goals.
With the risk of losing two of her star players to retirement, Wiegman will be excited to see the incredible talent, which she will be able to mould and shape, coming through.