By the end of 2020, the England women’s team’s budget and strategy were intertwined with those of the men’s team. That meant that if the Lionesses’ manager wanted to hire a new backroom employee, he didn’t have the autonomy to do so.
Fast forward to 2022 and England’s women, new European champions, 24-match unbeaten and even younger conquerors of world champions the United States at a sell-out Wembley, head into the 2023 World Cup group draw at a completely different venue on Saturday, both on as well as off the field.
You’ve never approached a World Cup in such a strong position.
A late Euro – postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, like the men’s version – means the next World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is already upon us.
With the exception of Ellen White and Jill Scott who have retired, Sarina allows Wiegman (although the same goes for the managers/head coaches of the other European teams) to work with a core group of players while adding new talent.
Yes, a lot can happen in nine months. Injuries can happen that disqualify individuals from the tournament and players could get in shape while opposing teams gain strength. As it stands, England are real contenders for the World Cup and that has never been said before.
The Lionesses’ summer success has boosted their FIFA rankings from eighth to fourth, placing them in Pot 1 of Saturday’s draw alongside the other top six in the world (USA, Sweden, Germany, France and Spain) and the two Co -hosts.
Throughout World Cup qualifiers, Wiegman insisted their players were reckless.
A 10-0 win against Latvia in October 2021 was not enough. A month later, they doubled the number of goals scored against the same opponent, with an absolutely no-compromise approach.
In the run-up to the European Championships, England showed signs of this relentless style, humiliating reigning European champions Netherlands 5-1. In the tournament itself, they continued to do so against two other heavyweights – beating Norway 8-0 in the group and Sweden 4-0 in the semifinals.
But for all their offensive dominance, the team’s most impressive trait was their composure in awkward situations.
Trailing Spain in the quarter-finals by the 84th minute, England were beaten by Germany in the final at Wembley, both ties requiring extra time but both coming out victorious. The team broke through psychological and physical barriers over the summer, showing them – and the rest of the world – the level they can consistently achieve.
“There was no doubt in this team that we were going to lose,” said Rachel Daly after the final. “Even at 1-1 we said ‘Anyway, fine’. We just have so much faith and passion. This team is so special, it’s a joke…I just knew we were going to win.”
The mentality of the pre-Wiegman era is no longer there.
Players are conditioned to think that nothing is satisfying other than winning. Debutants to the summer’s big tournaments, Ella Toone and Alessia Russo, now expect to win trophies, while earlier players might have viewed reaching the semi-finals of a Euro or World Cup as a success.
After conquering Europe, the question is whether England can go again and consolidate its authority on the global stage.
The first win against USA earlier this month since 2017 – with the caveat of missing key players for the best team in the world – showed they are at home in such high-profile company. Since the European Championship, the gap has narrowed and the two teams are now equal.
Wiegman was the difference. Players respect her, trust her and want to play for her. However, the transformation did not happen overnight.
The foundations were laid before her arrival in September 2021. The existing staff shared their plans with Wiegman and her new backroom team. They brought their own ideas on how to take England to the next level and spoke to the players about past successes. Then it was a matter of putting everything together.
By the end of 2020, the Football Association had a technical department, technical director and strategy overseeing the men’s and women’s teams. That has now changed, with a dedicated strategy and budget for women’s football.
This allows them to manage their own recruitment process, develop performance projects across all disciplines (mental, physical, technical, coaching) and two years later, England is reaping the rewards.
After the European Championship, the players understand the physical and mental demands of international tournament football even better.
Keira Walsh got that wake-up call in January 2020 when then-England manager Phil Neville and former head of performance Dawn Scott said she needed to address her lifestyle habits. Walsh has had almost three years to focus on the marginal advances that have made her one of the best midfielders in the world today.
It was the Japan 2021 Olympics for captain Leah Williamson when, speaking to Scott, she realized she “never wanted to feel that way again” after a British team made up mostly of English players were eliminated by Australia in the quarter-finals . Final. In that moment she realized what she had to do to fulfill her potential.
With experienced players setting the standard in the English camp, others will follow. They now know they are the drivers to ensure they are in the best possible shape to be selected for England.
Another important aspect of the strength of the national team is the national game.
The Women’s Super League (WSL) is the most professional and competitive ever. It pushes standards and offers gamers high-performance environments, although more needs to be done.
That was shown when Lucy Bronze (Barcelona), Georgia Stanway (Bayern Munich) and Walsh (Barcelona) joined clubs in continental Europe in the Champions League in the summer. Dealing with different environments has already had an impact on the England squad. Bronze noted ahead of the US game that influenced by their training in Barcelona, she and Walsh had upped the intensity in England’s sessions.
Players’ workloads and injury avoidance will need to be managed if England are to climax at just the right moment when the World Cup begins in late July and culminates in a final on August 20. It has to do with the communication between England and the players’ clubs, considering the players spend far more time with their team than with the national line-up.
The FA are looking to work more closely with clubs and as the season progresses player data is collected at international and domestic level by STATSports to provide a complete picture.
England have in Wiegman a manager who understands what it takes to win big trophies. She and her assistant Arjan Veurink have now delivered back-to-back European titles involving two different countries.
Although the 52-year-old is yet to win a World Cup, she led the Netherlands to the final of the youngest in France four years ago – the best result among the managers and head coaches set to attend in 2023.
Only time will tell how other nations fare ahead of the tournament.
But we know the two 2019 finalists are not the same teams – as seen at Wembley, the USA are in turmoil under Vlatko Andonovski, a coach who has never made it to a World Cup, while the Netherlands have two new coaches got a year and needed an extra-time win against Iceland just to seal automatic qualification for 2023.
Olympic champion Canada, now managed by Phil Neville’s former England assistant Beverly Priestman, is the team to avoid.
Their seventh FIFA ranking puts them in pot two, meaning they could potentially end up in the same group as England. Brazil and Australia are also strong sides, while England’s friendly against Japan next month will be another benchmark.
The Euro showed that two-time world champions Germany remain a force to be reckoned with, but France are struggling with selection and injuries, Sweden have disappointed in the summer and 15 of Spain’s players have not wanted a call-up until changes are made to the coaching staff.
Of course, the landscape can change between now and next summer.
Every team needs a bit of luck along the way.
Reaching the peak at the right time is a difficult balance and England will not have the support of the big home crowd cheering them on like they did at Euro.
At this moment, however, they are in a position of strength that they have not experienced before.
(Photo: Naomi Baker – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)