While we are in a period of lockdown, it has given us a chance to reflect on the impact and effect of various players and managers at Chelsea, to appreciate the greats, and it would be unfair not to talk about Emma Hayes, the Chelsea F.C. Women’s manager, and the impact she has had on the development and growth of the team, leading the team from the forefront and trying to take us to the next level. So, let us analyse and appreciate what Hayes has brought to us, and what she is doing to lead us to glory.
Emma Hayes, former manager of the Long Island Lady Riders, Ioana College, and first-team assistant coach and academy director of Arsenal Ladies, was appointed as Chelsea Women’s manager, after a brief spell coaching for a few teams in the United States, replacing Matt Beard who was Liverpool bound. Her love and passion for football was such that she had started coaching since she was as young as 20 years old, in spite of having a degree in European studies, she was pulled towards football.
When Hayes arrived in England, women’s football was not really at the level that it is at, today, as compared to America. However, after Hayes was put in charge, the board at Chelsea gave her the sufficient freedom that she needed to build a proper team here. Now, she could quite easily have gone the route of short-termism and made a few changes, but she decided to go with long-term development and squad building. She used young and hungry players and developed the team so that it could challenge for consistent success. Initially, things did not go according to plan, as is often the case when you opt for long term development, you have to endure a few bumps along the way if you want sustainable success in the long run. In her first season in charge. After the first few months, the team faced a relegation challenge with 10 defeats in the first 12 Super League games. However, the gradual change ultimately showed, with time and faith, the team was challenging to be at the top by 2014, when we lost the title on goal difference, but managed to qualify for the Champions League.
The 2015 season proved to be a success and the result of Emma’s patient team building with several new signings including the record signing of Frank Kirby, it turned out to be a fruitful season, as we won the league and cup double, a historic moment for us, winning the FA Cup with a second-half goal from Ji So-Yun, and then the WSL title after defeating Sunderland. Unfortunately, the Champions League campaign only lasted till the Round of 16, after which Hayes was very vocal about her dissatisfaction with fixture scheduling. However, that season was the season that saw us change the face of the Chelsea FCW, now a side to be reckoned with. The season after, we finished second and reached the FA Cup final for a second consecutive season. The 2017-18 season was another season of success as we won another double under the able leadership of Hayes and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League that same season, for the first time in the club’s history. This is how history was created at Chelsea. Granted it was a mixture of the efforts of the board, the players, and Emma Hayes, but she has certainly played a gigantic role in sculpting a team of amateurs into a professional, title-winning outfit. With fantastic new signings such as Sam Kerr, one of the highest-rated forwards in world football, the only way from here is up. We stand currently unbeaten in this season’s Super League, standing a point behind Manchester City with a game in hand, and also in the quarter-finals of the FA cup, after winning the Continental Cup already before the season stopped, with our manager having bagged three manager of the month awards already. The hope is to eventually become a European heavyweight by winning the UEFA Women’s Champions League someday, which is something that I have faith in Hayes to ultimately deliver for the club.
What gave Emma her success? The first step was her willingness to be a better manager, after her unsuccessful time at Chicago. The second, her desire to instill a winning mentality in her team, which they did not have before.
“I want to win. Winning breeds more winning, that’s what I’ve learnt. Getting on a roll is important.”
She also believes in having a good, strong bond with her players, developing them, and letting them go through the rough patches of their careers, to let them reach their full potential. Apart from that, she has built a team where there is the right amount of creativity and robustness, and a balance between the two, with a strong spine, which is something that you need when you challenge for titles. She is actively involved with the club in player recruitment as well, and takes a keen interest in the entire process, so that she can buy players that are just right for the team. Player development is a key area for her as well, and her great (wo)man-management can be seen from the example of how a player like Bethany England who simply did not fit in at Chelsea initially, but had to endure a rough patch and go to Liverpool on loan where she started finding her feet again, and came back to Chelsea, becoming a key player for the club, a prolific goalscorer whose 92nd minute winner helped us lift the Continental Cup this season, Hayes supporting her all through the process, recognising her talent in her bad patch and letting her go through the process to integrate her back into the team, ultimately. As far as tactical ability is concerned, Hayes is an unapologetic pragmatist in terms of tactics and does not shy away from tinkering with the shape, according to the players she has in the squad, and whatever is most suitable in the situation concerned. She is not very stubborn about her tactics and follows an approach of figuring out the spaces and how the opposition can hurt them, to use that to her advantage to win her team matches. Adapting to situations is a hallmark of a top manager in world football, and she has gained success with this tactical approach.
“I just do what I have to do to win. I survive first, and that looks different in different moments. I am a fighter and I want to put my team in a position where they can stay in the game. That is so important.”
Recently, Chelsea became the first club in the world that have their training sessions tailored based on the menstrual cycles of the players, which was a campaign that was lead and initiated by Hayes herself, which shows to what detail she thinks about the women’s game, and her players, the reasoning being that knowing the players cycles better and tailoring sessions according to that would lead to a lesser risk of injuries. So, not only is she having an impact on the Chelsea FCW, but also on women’s football at a global level. She has slowly and surely become one of the best female managers in football, and has a larger goal of taking women’s football to greater heights, not simply through marketing and broadcasting, but by improving the product and ensuring that women’s football reaches a level that people are actually entertained and like watching it, because unless that happens, even if it is marketed well, the end product would remain raw and people would not be drawn towards it.
As a person, Hayes believes in speaking her mind, is honest and straightforward in her interviews and says what she feels without engaging in much whataboutery. She has reached this stage in an inspirational way, unable to play football at the age of seventeen because of injuries, and starting her coaching career by the time she was 20, she worked odd jobs, like selling tickets or running bakeries. She earned her coaching badges, but that was not the end of the journey for her. She kept going, fell, got back up, learned from her mistakes, and kept looking ahead until she was Chelsea manager. She stayed calm through her rough patches, and now she is highly respected for what she does, being appointed for the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to football in 2016 is a great personal achievement apart from the honours that she has won for Chelsea. Becoming a mother between all this glory, balancing motherhood and her career, playing hide-and-seek with her son and watching a video about Marcelo Bielsa’s tactics while she’s at it, is just a fine example of her dedication to the sport. Apart from the sport, she has also taken an active role in supporting the club’s move to fight domestic abuse during the time of this pandemic, and has been extremely appreciative of the club and the owner for getting behind such a noble cause. I, for one, hope that Emma Hayes stays at Chelsea for a long, long time to come and keeps building her legacy, while taking the team to greater heights.
If that’s not an inspiring, incredible story of a strong, dedicated, hard-working and focused woman, battling against the odds to go down in history as one of the very finest, what is?
Edited By Martell Dublin