There may well have been moments this year when Sarina Wiegman and Mark Parsons unwittingly crossed paths at Schiphol airport but on Friday night the pair will come face to face in a “very special” pre-Euro 2022 friendly at Elland Road.
While Wiegman frequently commutes to work as the England Women manager from her home in The Hague, Parsons can regularly be spotted travelling to the Netherlands from his family’s base in Surrey.
As Wiegman’s sucessor, the Oranje’s 35-year-old English manager has much to live up to. The former Chelsea Women reserve coach has enjoyed considerable success managing DC United, Washington Spirit and Portland Thorns in the United States after emigrating in 2010 but his predecessor’s legacy is formidable.
After leading her country to home Euro 2017 glory before losing the 2019 World Cup final to the United States in Lyon, Wiegman joined the Lionesses last year, tasked with guiding them to victory in this summer’s showpiece on English soil. “What Sarina did was exceptional,” says Parsons. “I don’t know if it’s too smart of me to have succeeded someone like that.”
His predecessor cannot wait to renew acquaintance with Vivianne Miedema, Sherida Spitse and co. “It’s a very special game,” says Wiegman, whose side defeated England 3-0 in the Euro 2017 semi-final. “I worked with that team for many years and it will be really nice to see them again.
“I don’t think they’ve changed that much, the players are still the same and they have the same qualities; maybe they’re better now. They’ve adjusted one or two minor things but they’re still a very good team I know pretty well. I think they’ll play their strongest XI.”
Twelve games, 10 wins, two draws and 75 goals scored into her new role things look promising but England have rarely faced opposition of Friday’s calibre in recent months. “This is a key game,” Parsons says. “You don’t really know where you are until you play the top teams.”
Wiegman agrees. “The Netherlands are defending champions and it is our home tournament but it’s going to be a very strong Euros,” she says. “We have Spain, we have France, we have Germany, Sweden are always up there and Norway. It’s very equal, I think.”
England will be without record goalscorer Ellen White after the Manchester City striker failed a routine Covid test on Wednesday. She is asymptomatic and will rejoin the squad as soon as she tests negative, with Wiegman hoping the striker will be on the plane to the week-long training camp in Switzerland on Monday. “The world is open so sometimes players and staff can test positive,” saidys a sanguine Wiegman. “We’re trying to be careful so let’s hope we don’t have 15 positives.”
Elland Road will prove a particularly evocative venue for the Harrogate-born Rachel Daly. The Houston Dash utility player – she can play in pretty much any outfield position but excels at full-back and up front – began with Leeds and remains a staunch supporter of their men’s team.