England Head Coach Sarina Wiegman and skipper Leah Williamson took some time to answer questions from the media this morning and shortly after Canada’s boss Bev Priestman kindly did the same ahead of their first Arnold Clark Cup fixture.
As you would expect from top tier nations, both camps are determined and definitely ‘in it to win it’ but there is also less bravado on show and more reasoned focus on making progress ahead of the home Euros, and in the case of the Olympic champions, beginning the next chapter building towards the World Cup in 2023.
Watch the FULL @Lionesses press conference on Twitter here:
We'll be live shortly to hear from Sarina and @leahcwilliamson! 🎙
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) February 16, 2022
Here’s a snapshot of some of what they had to say, in response to our questions and one or two others…
On how she has been desperate for more competitive games going into the Euros and how important these next three games are:
We need these games because we want to be exploited on everything of the game: in defence, in possession, in transition moments, and so you need these opponents to play against. So that’s really exciting. And then after this tournament we will know better where we are at this moment. And that’s good for preparing for the Euros.
On how much we [media/fans] should read into the results over the next three games:
We approach every game to win but it can go both sides because we play such good opponents. So you can win, you can lose. But we know what we’re working on and what we want to develop. And after the game, we’ll see okay, what did we do really well and when maybe we have to change some things, what makes the chance of winning the next game bigger. So I would say just stay neutral – whenever we lose, whenever we win. Of course, we want to win but we stay neutral and just continue what we’re working on.
Having played in and won the She Believes Cup and the way the USA’s players felt like they owned that tournament – on whether the England team feel like the The Arnold Clark Cup is ‘their’ tournament:
We have a home tournament in the summer and this is perfect preparation for that and a little taster for everyone. I think the U.S. did it so well, where they got everybody on board, we want to pull everyone on the journey with us for the summer, so they’re as excited as us. 100% we’re going into the tournament to win it. You don’t enter one, not to. It’s the first one, we’ll see what happens but we definitely want to make it ours, for sure.
On how she feels the team has changed in her time involved with England and with the new coaching regime in charge:
I think the dynamic of the team has changed a little bit. I think we’ve realised ultimately, we’ve potentially under-achieved the last few tournaments and I think everybody wants to turn that around, so it’s more of a collective push to reach the next standard, which is bringing out the best in everybody, I think. I think this is some of the most competitive training I’ve been involved in for a long time here. The fight for positions, the fight to reach your potential, it’s all tying in nicely. Then obviously this week, we get an opportunity to learn more about ourselves which is a gift really, just to focus on the summer.
On what Bev Priestman was like to work with:
When Bev worked with us, she had a real sort of defensive focus and I’d say the main traits, when you look at Canada now, you can really see how they play in possession, and they’re an organised team but they also have a lot of pace, and she’s playing to those strengths. So yes, it’s interesting to me, in what she’s done with the Canadian team, obviously successful in the Olympics. It’s an efficient style of play, so it’s different but it’s interesting to play against and good for us to test ourselves against it.
She is often praised as a coach who is excellent at organising a team defensively, her Canadian team is very strong defensively too, so how does it make her feel as a coach when her team is described as ‘defensive’?:
You know what? I think it’s it’s playing on the strengths. I believe I’ve got a world-class back four and a group of players who are committed to do whatever it takes for each other and for the team. And I think that’s a massive strength of any team. You look at any team that’s won things – they have to be able to do that first. And so listen, I’m proud of the fact that the players want to work harder than any other team for their country but at the same time, I also want this team to move forward in terms of attacking and scoring goals. That’s our next step on our journey and we’ll have to add that along the way. But I think it’s a compliment.
On having worked with the England team and players in the past, when it comes to preparing for the match at Middlesbrough:
Obviously, it helps but I think the worst thing you can do as a coach is over-focus on the opposition. So I can give the little details of players’ strengths and weaknesses which I felt and saw but they’ll have developed since.
The important thing is it has to be about Canada and about what we do and our strengths and how we maximise them. And of course, I’m not delusional, England are a great attacking threat. Look at the amount of goals they have scored in Sarina’s time, granted they haven’t been against top ten opposition, but I’m absolutely focusing on what we we bring, but it does help knowing some strengths and weaknesses of players, because you can give them little details and in these games the little details can make all the difference.
On the disappointing news that the world’s leading goalscorer Christine Sinclair is missing the tournament (after very sadly losing her mother recently) but also the opportunity for new leaders to step up within the squad:
Absolutely. This time last year actually, at She Believes we were without Christine as well. And Christine will be the first to say that, for the first time in her career probably, this summer she didn’t have to have the game of her life because there was a group of players that were around her as well, and she could just do her job.
I think first of all, this team is much more than Christine now, I think that’s really important and she would say that. And definitely, I think this team are ready to step up. We’ve got a lot of very young players who have a lot of caps and experience, that have got Champions League medals, that really have taken Canada to a new level.
So I’m excited to see the leaders step up. There’ll obviously be a new captain on the pitch tomorrow in Jessie Fleming and I think what you’ve seen this summer is someone who stepped up in big moments. Jessie is very similar to Christine in her leadership, she leads by example, she’ll be the hardest working player on that pitch. At youth level, she was captain for myself with the U17s and the group are delighted to have her in that [role] and it’s a huge honour for Jessie, I know, to represent our country. So I’m really proud of her and where she’s been and where she’s going.