Emma Hayes: a manager who enabled human beings to always find a way | Suzanne Wrack | OneFootball

Emma Hayes: a manager who enabled human beings to always find a way | Suzanne Wrack | OneFootball

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·19 May 2024

Emma Hayes: a manager who enabled human beings to always find a way | Suzanne Wrack

Article image:Emma Hayes: a manager who enabled human beings to always find a way | Suzanne Wrack

There comes a time when you’ve written about the same scenario so many times that you begin to think that, eventually, you will run out of words. Chelsea’s stunning fifth consecutive league title – delivered in some style, via a 6-0 humiliation of Manchester United at Old Trafford to ensure they finished level with Manchester City but with a superior goal difference – is, strangely, not one of those times.

Yes, it is Chelsea’s eighth title of the past 10 (if you include the mini Spring Series of 2017) and the fourth year running that the title has been decided on the final day, but there is still so much to say.

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Chelsea have won the title, empathically, with Emma Hayes in charge and Fran Kirby on the scoresheet, but it is the first time the team lifting the trophy have lost more than two games and the first time the champions have not come away with the best points tally from games between the top three.

Everything is the same, yet everything is different, and it would be foolish to suggest Chelsea’s dominance has been straightforward or easy.

In fact, Manchester City should have won the league. After Chelsea lost against Liverpool, in a thrilling game which ended 4-3, it all looked over. Hayes conceded the title after that defeat. City had two games to play, against Arsenal and Aston Villa. “I think the title is done,” Hayes said. “Of course, mathematically it’s not, but I think the title is done.”

Was it an honest feeling or mind games? Either way, she was wrong. Because City are not Chelsea, a team that if given a sniff of an opening will ruthlessly tear it wider.

On Saturday, when it was all over and Hayes could bask in the glory of yet another league title in her final game before taking over as coach of the US women’s national team, she said: “I’ve been in City’s position and forgive me, but if we’d have been in City’s position, had they lost to Liverpool, in the years gone by, we definitely would have won that next game. So, forgive me for thinking that City should have won the title.”

She had on a “Champions” hat and a ‘“back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back” T-shirt, a winner’s medal around her neck and beer in hand. She added: “Man City have had a tremendous season. They really have. They pushed us all the way. But if you leave that door open for a team like Chelsea, I think the minute that door was left open was the minute everybody knew that we would walk through it.”

The answer to how City didn’t do it and how Arsenal didn’t do it – Jonas Eidevall’s side had the best head-to-head record within the top three – is as much an answer to how Chelsea did do it. City’s 2-1 defeat by Arsenal on 5 May when the Gunners were out of the title race was the turning point.

Arsenal had lost four times and drawn twice in the league and had not beaten City away for seven years. To make matters worse for City they were 1-0 up in the 88th minute. Stina Blackstenius’s two goals in three minutes ended their title chances and stopped a record-breaking 15th win in a row. Chelsea still had to win their three remaining games and overturn a goal difference gap of six, but it was the sniff they needed.

“I said to them, proverbially speaking: ‘It’s like going in with a gun in your mouth. How do you want to respond to that?’” said Hayes, after a 1-0 win at Tottenham last Wednesday. Before that, buoyed by City’s defeat by Arsenal, Chelsea had thrashed Bristol City 8-0 to overhaul their challengers’ goal difference advantage. “What I love about the team is our ability to keep their cool,” Hayes said. “We will find a way to keep performing no matter the pressure. That will be the thing I remember the most. It won’t be the wins but the ability of human beings to keep finding a way. People write you off, you wonder if you have more to give; we’re still finding a way.”

Gareth Taylor and City will probably point to the loss of the summer signing Jill Roord to an ACL injury in January and, critically, the loss of the WSL golden boot winner and player of the season, Khadija Shaw, to a foot injury on 21 April as decisive in their failure to get across the line.

Chelsea have had their injury issues too, though, with the strikers Sam Kerr and Mia Fishel sustaining ACL injuries, and the captain, Millie Bright, missing for huge chunks of the season with a knee injury. Catarina Macario made her return after 20 months out with an ACL injury and the club record signing, Mayra Ramírez, was brought in but they, too, were missing at times during the run-in.

“I almost can’t believe we’ve won the title; can’t believe it,” Hayes said. “Two games to go in the title we’ve got a 20-year-old on the right wing in Maika Hamano and Aggie [Beever-Jones] is also 20. No one talks about that enough. It’s not Sam Kerr. I respect that City have lost Bunny Shaw. Look at what we lost this year, and watch Millie Bright’s performance today. She’s had to play the last three games and we all know she hasn’t been 100% but what a leader – what a leader – and we’ve missed Millie for large chunks of the season.”

What makes Chelsea fight to the end, not drop heads, push through adversity over and over again and maintain a level of consistency even when in periods of transition? It’s the culture, the environment, the mentality. It’s Hayes, the manager who has spent 12 years crafting these things, whether in bricks and mortar or the humans around her.

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