With UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 still fresh in everyone’s memories, Europe’s coaching family has met to analyse and draw conclusions from a tournament that collected a wealth of superlatives in England in July.
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Coaches of the national teams that took part in the tournament were joined by national team coaches, technical directors and women’s football officials from UEFA’s 55 member associations, as well as other distinguished guests and experts, who came to England’s national football centre at St. George’s Park to examine not only the technical, tactical and coaching evolution of the women’s game, but also to recall the highlights of an event that continues to resonate on a variety of levels.
‘A different experience’
The UEFA Women’s National Team Coaches’ Conference kicked off with general observations, with the chair of the English Football Association women’s football board, Sue Hough, describing EURO Women’s 2022 as “a month to remember.” The tournament, she said, had been notable for the “warmth and friendliness” of the atmosphere in and around the stadiums.
“[It] provided a different culture and a genuine family atmosphere,” she reflected. “The product of football was the same, but it was a different experience – one that we all need to build upon.
“Women’s football is a place where you can happily bring your children – a place where you don’t have segregation – it’s a family experience.”
UEFA: Overall standards upgraded
In looking at the EURO and beyond, UEFA’s managing director of women’s football, Nadine Kessler, outlined a number of key factors in the tournament’s success.
“Standards were increased in all areas,” Kessler added, “along with a [major] budget increase. TV production and media services were on a completely different level. The VIP experience was aligned with what we do in the men’s [game].
“We had global and local campaigns to drive ticket sales. There were major investments in team services. The fan experience was also on a completely different level, and to deliver a Women’s EURO as we did in the summer, it also took us to bring the entire tournament structure a step forward. Almost 500 people delivered this EURO, and [we had] over 2,500 volunteers, so [it was] a whole new experience.”
Technical report: New benchmarks in women’s football
The conference moved onto its core theme – technical topics – highlighted by the unveiling of the Women’s EURO technical report at the opening of the event. The report details in facts, figures, statistics and images the key tactical and technical developments observed at a tournament that set new benchmarks for the women’s game in terms of tactical intelligence, technical skills, fitness levels and coaching acumen.
UEFA’s technical observer team at the tournament comprised current or former women’s national team or club coaches Gemma Grainger, Margret Kratz, Jayne Ludlow, Jarmo Matikainen, Joe Montemurro, Anne Noë, Vera Pauw, Hope Powell, and former England goalkeeper David James with additional input from fitness expert Stacey Emmonds.
Members of the technical team gave specific presentations at the conference on key items contained in the report. The aim of their work is not only to provide expert analysis for keen observers of the women’s game, but also to give invaluable insights to coaches and coach educators engaged in women’s football.
KEY FINDINGS IN THE WOMEN’S EURO TECHNICAL REPORT
• EYE FOR GOAL: With 95 goals scored in 31 matches, the Women’s EURO 2022 averaged 3.07 goals per game – the highest since the 2005 tournament.
• SET-PLAY SUCCESS: Dead-ball situations accounted for 36% of the goals scored in England – a percentage considerably higher than the 27% at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup or the 26% during the 2021/22 UEFA Women’s Champions League. This dramatic increase was largely attributable to the number of goals from corners – which rose from four in the last EURO in the Netherlands in 2017 to 16 in 2022.
• SHARP SHOOTERS: Shots per game were up to 27.9 – an increase of 2.5 from 2017.
• CLOSER TO THE GOAL: The average shot distance was the lowest on record (15.6m), as teams looked to work the ball into better positions before shooting.
• SPEED AND DISTANCE: Germany’s tempo and intensity are cited as an illustration of an area where advances have been made since the previous final tournament in 2017. Germany covered significantly more distance at the highest speed than any other team –-18% above the average.
• SHORT GOAL-KICKS IN VOGUE: Goal-kicks emerged among the tournament’s talking points, with the rule permitting outfield players of the team in possession in the penalty area making a significant impact on build-up strategies. Many teams exploited the rule with the aim of controlling build-up play – but outcomes were not always positive – which underlined the relevance of risk-management awareness and fast decision-making.
• SUBSTITUTION IMPACT: Teams continued to make the most of the new five-substitute role with each team averaging 3.41 substitutions per game. The final balance reveals that 17 goals were scored by substitutes – seven of them by players who emerged from the England bench, including the two that earned victory in the final, and four by Alessia Russo to push a substitute, unusually, into third place in the tournament’s scoring chart.
• KEEPERS STEP UP: UEFA experts noted an improvement in goalkeeping when compared to 2017 with well-developed, agile athletes covering more space, better positioned, proactive in their actions and more engaged in the game, even when the ball was further away.
EURO champion coach Wiegman: Creating a winning environment
A highlight of the event featured a presentation by England coach Sarina Wiegman on the many facets that combined to create a team spirit and environment that would take the Lionesses to the EURO title – the first major prize won by an England men’s or women’s senior national team for 56 years.
Wiegman is still savouring her second successive Women’s EURO coaching conquest after her triumph with the Netherlands on home soil in 2017. “It’s incredible what happened,” she reflected. “I’ve had two of the best moments of my life in sport, and they were winning the EURO with the Netherlands and winning the EURO here with England.”
Wiegman explained her targets when she started her work as England coach in September 2021. “My challenge was to bring people together, to create an environment with the staff, and to see if I could create a team of players that could perform at the highest level as well.
“The story behind football is team development – how you create the team, how you work together. I think when the communication is good, on- and off-pitch, then you get a better collaboration, and I think you get better results.
“We asked [initial] questions – what brought us this far? And what do we need to get better? What made England so good that the team made three semi-finals in a row in the final tournaments, and what prevented the team from going to the next stage? How can we take the next step to bring our game to the next level?”
Wiegman stressed the importance of the playing squad and staff working as one committed entity with a common goal. “We needed a structure,” she said. “What we did, as a staff, was to create lots of clarity about how we wanted to work off the pitch and on it.”
“When you go into a tournament, your collaboration is really intense,” Wiegman continued. “We wanted everyone to be committed and attached to what we were doing. We wanted to use all the qualities of the players, as well as all the expertise of the staff.”
Honesty and transparency were crucial in the overall approach. “When you talk to each other, you get understanding and acceptance. We wanted a high-demanding environment, then you need constructive feedback, and you have to be honest. I wanted the highest-level people around me, and people that think critically and give me feedback.”
Building a winning belief
Wiegman and her staff worked hard to instil a winning belief in the team in the run-up to the EURO. “We desperately wanted to win a tournament,” she said, “but I also felt a little bit like ‘do we really believe it?’ We saw it in some players, but we also had some players who were actually a little afraid of making mistakes.
“In April, we started to talk about winning behaviour, so we asked the players: what do we need to win? Who do we want to be? Why are we here? And how can we win? That’s what we were working on all the time.”
Eventually, all of these various elements gelled together as England grew and flourished into a unit that prospered and eventually emerged triumphant. “[There are] lots of leaders in this team,” said Wiegman. “I had to get to know the different [personalities]. We had leaders that were visible, but we also had a lot of leaders that weren’t visible but had a major role in the team. So [we ended up having] a very mature group of players really desperately wanting to win.
“I’m really, really proud of them, and proud of the staff too,” Wiegman concluded. “Our dream was winning the EURO, our goal was to perform at the highest level, under the highest pressure. And we wanted to inspire the nation… I think we did.”
Coaches’ forum: Well-prepared teams
A coaches' forum featuring Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, who led Germany to the runners-up spot in England, and quarter-finalist coaches Irene Fuhrmann (Austria) and Ives Serneels (Belgium) examined technical and other more general aspects of the EURO.
They agreed that the teams in England had been much better prepared about opposing teams and players than ever before. “We have a great scouting and analysis team,” Voss-Tecklenburg said about Germany’s set-up, “and every player had the opportunity to watch the opponents’ key players.
“These days, you have such good analysis tools that we actually know everything about the players. We’re now at such a good level that we can give our players a lot of footage, which we also did during the EURO.
“We have players in all our teams who just have that readiness to listen, to implement, and to concern themselves with the match, with the opponents but also with their own game. That’s why it was also clear to see in this EURO that everyone was very well-prepared.”
“Everything is more and more prepared,” agreed Serneels. “We know everything about the teams, and we also tried to prepare our girls more than [in Belgium’s previous finals appearance] in 2017 with clips of the players in the other teams.
“With our team, if we take the way we prepared in 2017 and compare it with the way we do it now, I think that’s an evolution that you see in all the teams.”
Gathering experience at top levels
A good number of the Austrian squad in England play abroad for clubs in the German Bundesliga and in the English Women’s Super League. Irene Fuhrmann expressed the view that it is important for countries like Austria and elsewhere to get players into the top women’s leagues to become more acquainted with the increasing intensity of the women’s game.
“It’s absolutely a success factor for us,” she explained, “because they aren’t just pushed in competitions, but also during the training week they are challenged against other good players in their teams. if we want to be successful with the national team, then our younger players need to recognise when they are ready to take that next step into the professional leagues such as those in Germany and England”
Voss-Tecklenburg also detected differences between players performing at the very highest European levels and those yet to taste that experience. “Why were these Women’s EUROs so good?” she asked. “Because we have top, well-trained athletes, but even in our team, we see a difference between players who play in the [Women’s] Champions League and those who don’t.
“We saw women who played in the EURO finals and were suddenly playing in front of 25,000 or 30,000 spectators. They had never experienced it before, and it affects you, and this too is a difference that we notice.”
Important technical milestone
The conference, run by UEFA's technical development department, is considered as an important post-Women’s EURO milestone because it brings together key technicians in the women’s game.
Just as the standards of the general competition delivery were raised, participants at the St George’s Park event also welcomed the detailed information and other comprehensive content which helped to take the tournament technical report to an impressive new level.