There are few football clubs in the world that can say they have had twenty years of uninterrupted growth like Chelsea. Since 2003, the year in which it was bought by the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, it has won everything possible and has become a great European club like many other more long-lived and successful ones. For about a month, however, Chelsea have been paying for the origins of their successes and are in the most difficult period of their recent history.
The club ended up among the assets that the British government froze in Abramovich, among the oligarchs close to Russian President Vladimir Putin sanctioned by the West following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The club’s main sources of income, such as ticket sales and merchandising, have been blocked, while expenses have been limited: the team cannot renew contracts – unless stipulated in advance – and must organize travel under a rather low spending limit. Abramovich can’t even sell the properties, as he had announced he wanted to do, and he can only wait.
Among all the teams that make up Chelsea between youth and professionals, the two main ones to suffer the most penalties: the men’s one, which has been talked about a lot in recent weeks, and the women’s one. The latter is the less talked about of the two, but it has a lot to lose: in the last decade it has gone from an amateur dimension to being the best team in England and among the most interesting in Europe.
The rapid growth of Chelsea women’s four-time English champion and finalist in the last Champions League final is mainly the work of Emma Hayes, 45-year-old English coach whose importance is comparable to that enjoyed in men’s football by Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger , historic Manchester United and Arsenal coaches for over twenty years.
Hayes is continuing to lead Chelsea in the recent difficulties, and in this situation they have managed to return to first place in the standings by overtaking Arsenal by one point in the last few days. For the moment, the concerns mainly concern the future of the team. In fact, there are five players in the squad close to the deadline at which the contract cannot be renewed: if these were to accept offers from other teams, and if the restrictions were to remain for a long time, Chelsea would have no way of replacing them. However, Hayes remains confident, as you recently told the British press: “It is a difficult time for everyone, not just for us. I am a coach, this is my job, and my job is to prepare the team. All my concentration is there. “
Before Hayes, women’s Chelsea were an amateur team, born independently in the 1990s and later affiliated with the men’s club with the arrival of Abramovich. Even with the new and very rich Russian ownership, the team continued to pay the little support women’s football had at the time, even in England. In 2009 he risked disappearing due to the cuts imposed by the company and was saved only by a personal donation of the then captain of the men’s team, John Terry, who was named president for the gesture.
In early 2012 Hayes was still unemployed. In previous years she had done a little bit of everything. Born and raised in the outskirts of London, she had been a footballer but she had had to end her career with a serious injury. However, she had continued to deal with football and sports, and in the early 2000s she moved to the United States to get to know and work in the local football system, already at the time one of the most efficient in the world.
He coached and directed several university and amateur teams with excellent results. With the exception of a two-year spell in England as an assistant to historic Arsenal manager Vic Akers, Hayes was mostly trained in the United States. There she coached and contributed to the success of some of the greatest American footballers, above all Megan Rapinoe, the penultimate female Golden Ball, whom she selected in 2009 from the university championships in her period as coach of the Chicago Red Stars.
In 2010, the season with Chicago started badly and ended after five championship days with the interruption of the contract. Hayes then decided to return to England and take a break. He remained in the world of football consulting for some American teams, but most of the time he spent working in the family business, a money exchange agency in Covent Garden, where for two years he dealt with the digital migration of the business. .
Meanwhile, the English women’s league had been restructured and one of the founding teams, Chelsea, was unable to compete. In 2012 she contacted Hayes, who accepted and began a long restoration project which unexpectedly, given the past, found in Roman Abramovich one of the main supporters.
Combining a certain entrepreneurial vision with knowledge of the game, Hayes has been a manager as well as a coach for the past decade, as one of her most loyal footballers, Katie Chapman, recalled at the Guardian: «She’s the one who built this Chelsea, from the laundry room to the canteen to the training grounds. Now it is a professional team in all respects, but everything there is now has been achieved over the years ».
After the first few seasons of struggling not to be relegated, Chelsea won their first league title in 2015 and then three more, becoming the most successful team in England, also counting five domestic cups. The first victories were fueled by the ownership with some of the most expensive signings in the history of women’s football, such as those of Pernille Harder from Wolfsburg and Samantha Kerr from the Chicago Red Stars for figures between 300 and 400 thousand euros.
Last season they became the first English team in twenty years to play a women’s Champions League final, clearly lost 4-0 to Barcelona, but considered a starting point for European ambitions, an area in which English teams do still struggling to be competitive.
Hayes is one of the many figures who have accompanied women’s football from its amateur to professional dimension, born of the rapidly increasing interest in recent years. Just as many female players have been other than footballers in recent years, Hayes has kept football as a passion by moving between different realities and sometimes even between different professions.
In the midst of all this, she has also overcome the loss of a child. In 2018 she was absent from the match in which Chelsea won the championship, because she is pregnant and close to giving birth. Two days later she gave birth but, as previously predicted by doctors, one of her twins did not survive. “My players only learned about my pregnancy situation before the last games of the season,” she revealed that year. “I said I didn’t want them to hear from the press. I remember the sadness in their faces, because they knew I had been through a difficult time. Some of them replied that they would win the title for me, as soon as possible ».