football

Sarina Wiegman: England Women boss urges FIFA and UEFA to make changes to calendar and protect players

Sarina Wiegman has urged FIFA and UEFA to make changes to the women's football calendar and provide "proper rest" periods for elite players.

On Tuesday, Wiegman named her squad for England's friendlies against Austria and Italy later this month, when the Lionesses will be without Millie Bright and Bethany England.

Wiegman also had to make do without several players for the World Cup last summer, with Leah Williamson and Beth Mead both missing due to ACL injuries.

The number of serious knee injuries suffered by players in the women's game is one of the factors that has led to calls for the fixture schedule to be altered - and Wiegman wants the governing bodies to take action.

"We have a June window. Then after that, there's the Olympics, which is not for us. Then at the beginning of September, there's Champions League again. What the players ask all the time is: 'Where is the rest for us?'" said the England boss.

"They want to compete, and we want the players fit and fresh. That means you always need rest - a proper rest. You need to train in June and July, too.

"We have had conversations with clubs - those have been very good - but we still don't have a solution for that period.

"FIFA and UEFA need to solve that for the players. I don't want to get in the same situation with the players and clubs that we had last year - no one wants that.

"When we talk about the calendar from 2025 on, this really needs to be solved. Yes, it's complex at moments, but players at the highest level, the demands are so high that they need a proper rest in between seasons."

Wiegman added: "It starts with the FIFA calendar. I know that's complex. Then it's UEFA and the Champions League.

"The Women's Super League starts a little later next season but you can't have rest if you play in the first round of the Champions League.

"The federations need to adapt to that, too. If you adapt a little bit then you can build in rest for players. That's what we really need to do.

"We need to stay connected, we need to communicate and we need to have the right people around the table to make the decision, and to know what the consequences are."

England reached the World Cup final last summer, meaning they played seven matches in Australia and New Zealand.

The Lionesses then played six Nations League matches between September and December.

After two friendlies this month, England will play six Euro 2025 qualifiers between April and July. As a result, Wiegman's side will have played 21 matches in the 12 months since the start of the World Cup.

England's schedule would have been even more congested had they qualified for the Olympics, which take place in July and August.

What is more, England's players must also contend with a packed calendar at club level. For example, Chelsea - England's sole representative in the Champions League - could play up to 11 games in Europe.

The Blues will also play 22 WSL fixtures and could play as many as five in the FA Cup and three in the League Cup - meaning a total of 41 in all competitions.

As a result, a Chelsea and England player who played at the World Cup and was available for every one of their team's fixtures during the 2023/24 season could play up to 62 matches for club and country during the calendar year.

Sky Sports' Laura Hunter:

The fact that Sarina Wiegman is able to call on Leah Williamson again is a huge boost, particularly in light of Millie Bright's extended absence.

Curiously, Wiegman stayed coy on Williamson's position as captain, presumably because she's been out of the fold for close to a year. A lot has happened since then.

Williamson is yet to play a full 90 since her injury return and competitive minutes will need managing. Perhaps Wiegman will take this opportunity to test the waters - England haven't had the luxury of many international windows playing only friendly fixtures.

The Dutchwoman was also quick to point out that others have stepped up admirably in the Arsenal defender's wake. I've particularly liked what I've seen in a leadership capacity from Georgia Stanway - she has captain energy.

Mary Earps has also come to the fore. She led the side during a difficult December and is a commanding figure, reliable too. She'd be a popular appointment.

Goalkeepers: Mary Earps (Man Utd), Khiara Keating (Man City), Hannah Hampton (Chelsea).

Defenders: Lucy Bronze (Barcelona), Jess Carter (Chelsea), Niamh Charles (Chelsea), Esme Morgan (Man City), Alex Greenwood (Man City), Lotte Wubben-Moy (Arsenal), Leah Williamson (Arsenal), Maya Le Tissier (Man Utd).

Midfielders: Grace Clinton (Tottenham), Fran Kirby (Chelsea), Jess Park (Man City), Keira Walsh (Barcelona), Georgia Stanway (Bayern Munich), Ella Toone (Man Utd).

Forwards: Alessia Russo (Arsenal), Rachel Daly (Aston Villa), Lauren Hemp (Man City), Chloe Kelly (Man City), Lauren James (Chelsea), Beth Mead (Arsenal).

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