OPINION - What It Takes by Sarina Wiegman review: a complete disappointment

 (HarperCollins)
(HarperCollins)

Sarina Wiegman was six years old when she cut all of her hair off. The hair-cutting was not the stylistic choice of an unusually avant-garde child, but rather a means to a very simple end – playing football. She was, of course, playing with boys – when Wiegman was born, in Sixties Netherlands, women’s football was still banned by the Dutch football association.

So, like many girls at the time, her hair was simply a temporary sacrifice to play the sport she loved, allowing her to slip in undetected amongst the boys on the pitch. “Sometimes they’d find out – usually when a parent on the sidelines was upset about us winning – and in those moments, derogatory remarks would be directed at me,” she writes matter-of-factly in her new memoir, What It Takes. “But I always tried my best to brush it off and not let it affect me.”

How, then, did Wiegman go from fighting just to get her studs on the pitch, to becoming one of the most successful international football managers of all time? How did she achieve the unthinkable – leading an English football team to their first major tournament victory since 1966? Well, if you’re looking to What It Takes for answers, don’t hold your breath.

There is no next to no information on her own life

More of an aspiring manager’s workbook than a personal memoir, there is next to no information about Wiegman’s own life, her feelings during the high-octane moments of her Euro triumphs, her thoughts on…literally anything at all.

Instead, it is 300 pages of cliched, Chat GPT-esque platitudes, like “Today’s the day we’ve been waiting for!”, “We feel that we’re engaged in something really special”, “At that point, I literally feel my passion.” On winning the 2022 Euros with the Lionesses, she writes: “We’d done it! I cheered and what followed was a group hug.”

It also doesn’t help that around half of the book is lengthy quotes from other people – players from both the Dutch and English national team, (fine, interesting), but also other seemingly unrelated interlopers including the co-founder of TomTom, and a lieutenant general in the Dutch armed forces.

Perhaps there was a problem with the ghost writer, Jeroen Visscher. Or maybe some of Wiegman’s emotions were lost in translation. Wiegman does admit that she is intensely private and media shy. Fine, of course, probably useful – that is, unless you’ve decided to write an autobiography.