MIllie Bright is no longer offended when Sarina Wiegman accurately explains what she’s doing wrong. With Euro 2022 approaching,The heart of the Chelsea midfield has learned to divide her feelings and almost welcome ‘difficult conversations’ previously with the very honest England boss. She understands that context is everything with Wiegman.
“It’s not personal, it’s football and this is changing the way we think. We are all very open and honest now,” Bright says as she settles into her seat in an indoor soccer hall in St George’s Park as the Lionesses were preparing for their opening match on Wednesday night against Austria at Old Trafford. “Sarina takes all the feelings out of her.
If you want to take it to another level and be in the best football environment, you should have the tough conversations we have. Sarina’s comments are never personal but for me as a footballer. It’s about what’s best for the team, there’s just no emotion in it.”
While the Dutch are notorious for their straightforwardness, and Wigmann, a native of The Hague who led the Netherlands to Euro 2017 glory, appears to be a prime example, the 52-year-old may not have been the control freak she sometimes seems. Remarkably, the woman tasked with ending England’s semi-final exit streak in her last three major tournaments requires players to think for themselves on the pitch.
While some coaches coach teams so meticulously that their choreography can be seen as football’s answer to drawing by numbers, Wegman’s team has to use their brains. The stylistic doctrine is outside and improvisation is far from taboo. Take Brite’s passion for nutrition England winger Lauren Hemp With long diagonal balls. “Sarina has something where the player on the ball makes the decision,” Bright says. “You’re in control. That’s something I really loved coming about.
Don’t feel pressured to play a particular pass; It’s your decision and the team goes with it. If it’s wrong, you’ll learn to make a better decision next time. Being able to play this way gives me confidence. I feel really free.”
Former England coach Phil Neville has been sticking to a smooth passing from behind, but despite his successor’s similar preference for technically qualified defenders, Wigman believes pragmatism trumps rigidly imposed principles.
“We have specific patterns of play but we also know that games change every second,” Bright says. “You are unpredictable, having the freedom to recognize and evaluate different options rather than being bots and sticking to strict plans is critical to our development. We have game plans but being able to express ourselves has taken us to another level.
“It is about choosing the right option for every moment. Our approach is different. It is not set in stone. It is a mixture. Everyone comes from very competitive clubs where you are challenged to play from behind and we all want that, to be the best at the ball. But football is not that simple. It was just. With different opponents you have to be able to adapt. We will be ready for anything thrown at us.”
Under Neville’s leadership, Bright has built a strong central defensive partnership with Steve Hutton, but has recently reached new heights alongside Alex Greenwood. “We’ve built a connection and it’s really natural now,” says the 28-year-old who has played alongside Greenwood, and occasionally Lea Williamson, and has adapted to work alongside a partner in the gaming industry.
“Alex’s distribution of money, her death is ridiculous and can be a key. Maybe sometimes people underestimate her. In training she is solid, she makes lumps and puts her body to the test. Sometimes people may not think she leans that way but she is on top. It is a pleasure to play alongside her.”
Not that Bright’s pass itself is too poor either. A talented equestrian whose family has a steady yard of horses in their home in South Yorkshire, her game is a mixture of physical courage, wise timing and the kind of mental bravery that has made the relentless defender score some impressive goals. “I’d like to think I could get us out of the distribution problem if necessary,” she says. “Under Sarina’s leadership, everyone has been pushed to new levels and has the confidence to do new things.”
Given that England possesses such strength in depth, despite declaring themselves fully fit after injury, she was once a talisman. Hutton has been removed from the team By the usually unemotional Wiegman, team selection seems difficult. “Sarina will have a difference in choosing a headache,” Bright says. “We have an incredible group of players and that competition keeps you poised; we push each other to different levels.”
Bright, who has been banned from rides by insurance companies, feels the overall technical limit will rise in a tournament that has been delayed by a year due to the pandemic. “After covid we almost had a rebirth of the women’s game, we missed playing a lot,” she says. “Covid taught me not to take things for granted, it was literally a rebirth as a person and a player.”
Eight months before England’s first lockdown The lioness Neville lost the World Cup semi-finals To the United States in Lyon The painful memories of France 2019 remain. “You think about the semi-finals you lose, they’re always there,” she says. “Memory gives you motivation and a little fire inside when you need it. You might be a little tired and that gets you up hill.”
England is noticeably stronger than it was three years ago, but other countries have also improved. “It’s going to be one hell of a tournament; it won’t be easy.” But it’s a huge opportunity – and it’s there to take advantage of.