Parsons: Dutch challenge pulled me in
Parsons: Dutch challenge pulled me in
Mark Parsons succeeded Sarina Wiegman as Netherlands coach
The Englishman tells FIFA of his plans for reshaping the reigning European champions
He also speaks about bringing the best out of the multi-talented Vivianne Miedema
Mark Parsons describes himself as “a builder” of football teams. His exploits in the NWSL, in reviving a rock-bottom Washington Spirit and restoring lost lustre at the Portland Thorns, have also firmly established his credentials in mending them.
Some wondered, therefore, about the matching of this 35-year-old Englishman – an expert in repair – with the job of coaching the Netherlands. After all, if ever a team seemed to fit that old adage about not fixing what ain’t broken, it was surely the Oranjeleeuwinnen Sarina Wiegman had steered to European glory and onwards to the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ final.
However, Parsons explained what convinced him to take on this new and formidable challenge in an interview in which he also addressed the identity of the post-Wiegman Netherlands and a dilemma around the team’s star player.
Parsons isn’t just succeeding the most successful coach in the Netherlands’ history. By trading club football – and team at which he was much-loved –- for his first role in the international game, he is taking a daring leap outside his comfort zone.
“A couple of good international jobs actually came up for me before this one. But I was so happy at Portland that I had an agreement that, if people called about me, I didn’t want the club to let me know. It was my family situation, dealing with COVID and the travel ban – with my wife stuck at home with an eight-year-old version of me – that made us reconsider and start thinking of coming back to Europe. The KNVB call still came way earlier than we’d planned, and I thought it wouldn’t work out because of the timing. But I spoke to them for two hours and came away from that conversation completely convinced.
“If they’d said, ‘The team is perfect and we just need someone to maintain things’, it wouldn’t have been for me. But what I heard was that the team had enjoyed great success but had some challenging periods coming. That pulled me in. I saw that, although Sarina had done an unbelievable job and overachieved, the team was reaching a period where it needed to evolve and change.”
“People first, people second, people third. And then a little bit of soccer,” was how Parsons described his approach to coaching as he departed the Thorns. He also vowed to remain faithful to that ethos “wherever I go”, and does not see reduced contact time with players as a barrier to building that all-important personal connection.
“I like people, I love talking and engaging with them, but it’s not about me doing something for the sake of enjoying it. It’s about performance. When you understand a player as an individual, and there is a connection, you can get to the point faster. It’s definitely true that, as an international coach, you need to be more efficient in how you use your time with the players. I’ll still be learning about how best to do that years from now. But I actually feel that, in a way, I can connect with the player more in this job.
“Also, I’m very aware of other people’s qualities, but I like to think I’m pretty self-aware. And I know that I can be quite intense. What I saw a few years ago is that, after two or three months of working in a season, that intensity of pushing players to always improve would start to burn a little. I remember thinking then, ‘International football might be good for me; nine days of pushing the players and then they get a break from me!’ (laughs) I actually feel I’ve become smarter in the years since then – just as purposeful, I think, but a bit less intense. But it’s been in the back of mind for a while that coaching a national team might be a job that would suit my personality and the way I work. I’ve always been intrigued by international football too,
by that challenge as a coach of doing more with less time. And I’m loving every moment.”