The problems Sarina Wiegman has to address as England manager

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The problems Sarina Wiegman has to address as England manager - GETTY IMAGES
The problems Sarina Wiegman has to address as England manager - GETTY IMAGES

There has been a reluctance to admit it, or even discuss it, but while the England team have stagnated since reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2019 many of the countries who will face them at next summer’s European championships have dramatically improved.

It is this cold, hard reality that England’s players must embrace at the start of new manager Sarina Wiegman’s reign, beginning against North Macedonia on Friday.

As things stand, although England could win as the host nation of next summer’s Euros and have the ability to do so, the likes of Olympic gold medalists and World Cup semi-finalists Sweden look stronger and better. The same can be said of World Cup runners-up and reigning European champions Netherlands, even if the woman responsible for leading that success, Wiegman, has left to take charge of the Lionesses.

France and Germany will be tough to beat as ever, while Spain are the most improved country in the world, progress built on their blossoming domestic competition and solidified by Barcelona’s Champions League win last season.

After so many years on an upward trajectory, things stalled under former manager Phil Neville long before he abandoned post to move back into the men’s game with Inter Miami in the USA.

Since beating Norway in the World Cup quarter-final in June 2019, England have lost nine, drawn one and won just four games against Portugal, Czech Republic, Northern Ireland and Japan. As Team GB, they were beaten by Australia in the quarter-finals of the Olympics. It has not been good enough and it is a concern, which is why Wiegamn’s arrival is so welcome.

While Georgia Stanway was hesitant to admit that the team had gone backwards, it is hard to make a case to support that defence. Yes, the overall strength of the game in terms of our domestic competitions has continued to grow, but the national team has been in a slump for too long.

In the end, despite saying “I don’t think it’s gone downhill in any way shape or form”, Stanway accepted it was time to stop sugar-coating things.

“It’s been a difficult year, with Covid, but also results [since the World Cup] have not been as good as we would like.

“If you look at our stats, it doesn’t do us justice as a team and the squad we have got. That’s hard to accept but we know now the work that has to be done ahead of the Euros, and we’ve also got a World Cup and another Olympics to work towards. We’ve got to knuckle down and face it head on.”

The problems Sarina Wiegman has to address as England manager - GETTY IMAGES
The problems Sarina Wiegman has to address as England manager - GETTY IMAGES

Wiegman’s arrival should give renewed focus and a different approach, but Stanway feels part of the problem is they, as players, and we in the media, have talked too much about winning tournaments.

“As footballers we are in a really good position with our clubs and with England. We can inspire many people and we can play really good football, it’s just about playing that good football in the times of need [stress]. We’re working on that.

“With the input Sarina has put in, we can see the pathway we want to go but there are a lot of questions to ask and a lot of work to be done. We’re not scared to say that.

“We have to improve, absolutely. How many times can you go to a major tournament and be knocked out before the final? We’ve been to the World Cup and the Olympics, gone there saying we are going to lift the trophy and we are going to win a gold medal. And how many times do we fall short?

“How many times do we feel letdown in the situation because we haven’t achieved what we set out to do? I feel like this is the time we have to face facts. We weren’t good enough in those tournaments.

“We can’t listen to outside noise. We have to hit it head on, these are things we have to work on and stop getting ahead of ourselves. It’s one game at a time, not talking about whether we've got a Euros or a World Cup to win. Let’s stop looking that far ahead and take it step by step with Sarina.”

The process starts against Macedonia in Southampton Friday before a trip to Luxembourg next week. England should win both games easily, but that should not disguise their problems. It is time to accept they exist and focus on doing something about solving them.

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