Friday 01 February 2019, 12:22

Wiegman and Panico: a friendship flourishing in Florence 

  • Sarina Wiegman and Patrizia Panico paired up in Coach Mentorship Programme

  • Italian hosted Dutch coach in Florence during first in-person visit

  • Wiegman: "If we can help each other, then you have achieved something"

The sweeping hills of Florence provide a stunning backdrop for the Italian Football Federation (FIGC)’s historic Coverciano Technical Centre.

The training centre for the Italian national teams for over six decades, there is a sense of that history as you walk around the innumerable pitches and facilities, with the buildings designed to retain the feel of the surrounding areas – meaning a plethora of terracotta roofs and yellow walls. A slice of elite footballing paradise tucked away in Tuscany.

It was in that setting that Patrizia Panico welcomed Sarina Wiegman, mentee and mentor respectively on FIFA’s Coach Mentorship Programme, to ‘Casa Italia’, for their first in-person meeting since the programme kicked off in October 2018.


Sarina Wiegman / Netherlands women's head coach

  • Over 100 caps for the Netherlands during playing days

  • Won UEFA Women's EURO 2017 as coach

  • Named The Best FIFA Women's Coach 2017

Patrizia Panico / Italy men's U-15 head coach

  • Over 200 caps and 100 goals for Italy as a player

  • Attained UEFA 'A' licence badge in 2017

  • Named U-15 head coach after working as assistant for U-16 side

Panico hosted the legendary Dutch coach across an intensive five-day training camp, during which her side played twice (against Turkey), and Wiegman observed the games as well as training and analysis sessions.

“We’ve had good days here in Florence, exchanged a lot of information,” Wiegman told “I can see whatever I want, be a part of everything – I’ve really enjoyed being here at Coverciano. It’s good to see how she works and the other way round. I also ask her a lot of questions. Maybe questions she didn’t think of yet with the experiences I’ve had and so we get into a discussion which is really good, and we both learn from that.”

A key theme throughout the five days seems to be that of mutual respect and understanding between the pair. Wiegman, an international footballer herself during her playing days outlined that this particular partnership perhaps blurs the lines between mentor and mentee, with Panico having enjoyed an outstanding playing career of over 200 international appearances, scoring over 100 international goals. The Italian, nonetheless, sees Wiegman as her ‘tutor’.

“We get together 45 minutes before the training session starts and I explain to her what I’m going to do on the pitch,” Panico explained to “We talk about it together and then she comes to see the session. Afterwards we talk about how it went: the things that could be improved, the things that worked well. We talk about it all.

“Then, in the matches we talk about the team I’ve picked. And we have a chat after the match too. She tells me how she thinks it went and what she didn’t like. It’s what a tutor does.”

And their targets for the end of the Coach Mentorship Programme in November?

“Just to improve,” Wiegman said. “[Patrizia] wants to improve everyday, I want to do that as well, and if we can help each other – maybe it’s five per cent, or 20 per cent, I don’t know – but I think then you have achieved something.”

“To be fluent in English!” Panico laughs.

Both coaches have a shared experience in the men’s game, with Panico’s current role mirrored by Wiegman’s past work with the youth and reserve teams of Sparta Rotterdam’s men’s side. Despite progress in recent years, women in the men’s game clearly still face some obstacles.

“Maybe the biggest difficulty is the scepticism you see more from the outside than with the team,” Panico said. “The players don’t care whether they’re coached by a man or a woman. The Federation, Club Italia and Maurizio Viscidi (co-ordinator of the FIGC’s youth teams) have shown a lot of faith in me.

“Maybe there’s a bit of fear (from the outside), the fear of seeing a woman in the dugout in the men’s game, of seeing that change. When something new happens it always generates a bit of fear. The way I see it, it’s more a question of getting people used to seeing women in the dugout, just as we’ve become used to seeing female police officers, lawyers and surgeons.”

This pioneering pair’s mentor-mentee relationship will continue in the next visit, with Wiegman set to host.

“Now we are planning for [Patrizia] to come to the Netherlands, where she’ll join a training camp of the Dutch national team,” Wiegman concluded. “I can show her how I work with my staff, what other things are on my plate like the media, other expectations – so she can be aware of my situation and we can share things again and hopefully we can help each other.”