Baroness Sue Campbell admits her expectations have been “absolutely” exceeded by the “exceptional” Sarina Wiegman in the Dutchwoman’s time as England boss so far.
After her appointment was announced by the Football Association in August 2020, Wiegman, who had overseen Holland winning the 2017 European Championship on home soil and finishing as 2019 World Cup runners-up, started work as Phil Neville’s permanent successor on a four-year deal last September.
England’s first major tournament with her in charge is their own home Euros in July, the provisional squad for which was confirmed last week.
And the team will head into next month’s warm-up matches with a record under Wiegman to date of 11 games, nine wins, no losses, 72 goals scored, two conceded, and a trophy lifted in the form of the Arnold Clark Cup.
Campbell, the FA’s director of women’s football, told the PA news agency: “She’s absolutely exceeded my expectations.
“I’ve worked closely with coaches. I was for many years head of the National Coaching Foundation, working around some of the greatest coaches this country has ever seen – and she’s right up there. She is exceptional.
“And she’s not just exceptional technically and tactically – it’s the manner with which she builds a team, her relationship with players and the team around the team.
“It’s been a privilege to watch her work, and to be around her. I’m very impressed and I think everybody who works with her will tell you the same story.”
In October 2020 Campbell said England – beaten semi-finalists at their last three major tournaments – not winning either this Euros or next year’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand would be deemed a failure.
Regarding that, Campbell said: “I think we should definitely have that aspiration, that should be our aspiration. It has to be. But we have to also be fair to the group of players and to Sarina, who’s only been in the job since September.
“This is the most talented squad of women that we’ve ever had. We’ve got one of the best coaches in the world, if not the best. We should be there and thereabouts.
“But we don’t want to set aspirations that actually mean the players are under unnecessary pressure. We want them to go out, do their best, perform well, and I have no doubts in my mind that under Sarina’s leadership they will do that.”
The Lionesses being crowned champions this summer would only add to the impact for English women’s football of a tournament that Campbell has described as “another game-changer for us”.
She said: “We’re on a journey, we’re nowhere near finished, where we want to get to. But you can see the growth in every area of the game and for us, the Euros just kicks us on again to another level.
“The trick of all these major events is to be really well prepared, so that when all that inspiration happens, you can turn it into participation, so you can make sure you’ve got opportunities to play very clearly laid out before the event, which we have done.
“It’s an enormous opportunity for us and it will be the biggest women’s tournament ever in Europe. It’s a fantastic opportunity.”
The tournament fixtures that have sold out so far include each of England’s group games, which start with a July 6 clash against Austria at Old Trafford, and the July 31 Wembley final.
Iceland midfielder Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir last month was critical of some venue choices, branding the use of Manchester City’s Academy Stadium, which will have a capacity of 4,700, “disrespectful”.
A spokesperson for Euro 2022 said tournament organisers believed “the right mix of stadiums has been chosen to provide the tournament with a platform to fulfil its potential.”
Asked about Gunnarsdottir’s comments and if she was happy with the stadiums being used, Campbell said: “With the stadiums we’ve picked, there are 700,000 tickets for sale. We’re opening and closing at two of the biggest stadiums in Britain, we’ve got four stadiums that take up to 30,000, two that take more than 10,000 and then two that take less.
“That was a balance, and let’s remember people have to bid to do this. There are still some stadiums where we haven’t sold 50 per cent of the tickets. So it’s a balance.
“I think we got it right. I think we had a really ambitious target of doubling the number of the tickets that were sold in 2017, and that we’re en route to doing that. I think the team got that right, with the applications they had to be involved.”
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