The 31/7 email logotype in purple and orange
Hey guys!

This weekend Emma Hayes' quest for a farewell quadruple took another sizeable hit as her Chelsea side were knocked out of the FA Cup by Manchester United. So, I'm going to do the horrible thing of ignoring what happened on the pitch and focussing on what we can learn from the managers' respective press conferences, instead!!! This has got me thinking about:
  • how far you can go in life simply by bigging yourself up
  • the toll of overworking
  • what it means to look at your star
  • ...and other bits!
Enjoy and have a great week 😎


Last Thursday, Manchester United manager Marc Skinner and Chelsea manager Emma Hayes took very different approaches when speaking to the media before going head-to-head in the FA Cup semi-final.

Amid talk that Man Utd’s new owners are negotiating a fresh contract for Skinner, who is not popular with Reds fans just now, it comes as little surprise that Skinner had a fresh batch of blather.

[You can watch the whole thing here and judge for yourself, but it would be way easier and far less fair on Skinner if you were to read on as I cherry pick the bits which paint him in the silliest light.]

"I'm at a club that not only do I love the history of it, I love what's going to come in the future,” he said.

“It's a club that has fantastic fans, like, incredible fans.

"So for me, it's something. Of course I want to stay.”
It sounds like Skinner is having a wicked time despite supporters’ repeated calls for his head. But then, it would be easy to dismiss those calls if you were, say, someone with blind faith in his own ability.

“I think the team are in a fantastic place and we're growing, Skinner said. Huh, ok. 'Growing' would look like bettering last year’s second-place finish. Instead, after throwing away their shot at the Champions League in October, the Reds’ ambitions have fallen from chasing the title, to chasing third place and another shot at the Champions League, to now hoping to cling on to fourth as Liverpool make a late bid for their consolation prize.

Some would call that ‘fantastic’, others might observe a team ‘going backwards’, while a real, vocal section of fans suggest that United’s success last season was attributable to the departed Ona Battle and Alessia Russo, whose absence has exposed Skinner for what he really is — a manager who is not in the same league as the likes of Hayes and Manchester City boss Gareth Taylor.

After he failed to adapt to the departure of his team’s key players, the upcoming expiration of Mary Earps’, Katie Zelem’s and Nikita Parris’ contracts leaves the Man Utd board at a fork in the road. Do you go all in, renew the contracts of Skinner and all the players he depends on, or look elsewhere and start afresh?

In the face of his side’s failures in the league and in Europe, matching last season’s place in the FA Cup final was the least Skinner could do to steer the conversation.


Meanwhile, down in London, Hayes had more than the future on her mind — she had the past and present competing for her attention, too. One of the hottest managers in the world right now, Hayes had the luxury of deciding her own destiny, but she’s quickly discovering that juggling two of the highest-profile jobs in women’s football at once is creating an uncomfortable spotlight.

Last week, the USA side which Hayes will take charge of at the end of the season promised fresh hope to fans disillusioned by the team’s decay under former manager Vlatko Andonovski, whose failures culminated in a shock round-of-16 exit in last summer’s World Cup.
Since then, a number of young players have emerged to build excitement for a new era under Hayes, which preceded her arrival when the States lifted the SheBelieves Cup last Tuesday. Hayes knows expectations are high so, despite the fact she’s not due to take the post until May, she’s getting her homework done ahead of time: “I’m really using my time wisely in the background to learn from others who have experienced the transition from club to international, to make sure I take on the right lessons, the right learnings, immediately.”

But while she researches how to do her next job, she has to pursue more trophies in her current job, while also clearing up the mess she made at the Continental League Cup final t’other week.

Moments after the Blues’ dreams of winning the quadruple were crushed by defeat to Arsenal, Hayes gave rival manager Jonas Eidevall a shove when the pair came together to shake hands. But instead of apologising after the emotion subsided, she doubled down, explaining in her post-match press conference that the ‘male aggression’ she had observed in Eidevall earlier was not welcome in the women’s game.

Her comment sparked much debate and was, naturally, the first item on the agenda when Hayes spoke to the press ahead of the FA Cup semi-final. Hayes is the last to hesitate when it comes to giving her opinion, but this time, she deflected, swerving the expectation of an apology or retraction by sharing an unlikely conversation she’d had with her school-age son —you can’t meet aggression with aggression, all you can do is tell a teacher— and an extract from a Robert Frost poem by way of explanation.
Her response implies regret, so why not just… say sorry?

Journos will dine out on a managerial spat for weeks, playing mediator as the bosses take digs at each other through barbed press conference remarks. Earlier in the conference, the media had quoted back to her Eidevall’s observation that her behaviour was irresponsible. Her response, if sufficiently quotable, would presumably be jotted down and taken back to Eidevall the week after.

Perhaps the obscurity of her defence of herself was one way of putting a stop to the back-and-forth. Imagine, "So Jonas, last week, Emma Hayes said ‘I’ve had time to look at my star’... What do you make of that?” Poetry is harder to pin down or whip up into a headline than the ‘sorry’ the media were looking for.

Hayes ended the conference by saying: “Being in my position is not easy. So, I need to keep my sanity.”


It’s funny. Hayes has two jobs and more of the best kind of work than she could ever wish for, and Skinner has one job with a faint question mark over it. Yet only one of them seemed agitated in their Thursday press conferences.

No wonder Skinner seems unruffled by the contracts of some of his best players coming to an end. According to him, Sunday’s epic fight” would be won if his team could show the “abundance of personality” through which they could overcome any team, ever. The supporters had a role to play, too: We have to use our fans and our fans have to be with us from minute one to however many, it could be extra time, penalties...”

You can’t always get what you wish for. Never mind minute one, the Guardian’s Suzanne Wrack reported that fans were chanting “Skinner out” before the game had even kicked off.

Terrible really, never giving the poor fella a chance… Doesn’t a guy deserve a chance?
But then kick off happened, and I and everyone else thinking the guy had had several chances too many were silenced in the best way possible. Man Utd, going ahead against the FA Cup holders inside one minute. Who is this, the best day ever?

Most gratifying for Skinner, though, was Man Utd’s second goal — yes, a second goal for Skinner’s Reds! This was scored by Rachel Williams, whose inclusion in the starting eleven prompted much disgruntlement by fans, who generally prefer to see the 36-year-old offering a surprise from the bench in the latter stages of the game.

But there’s a reason why Skinner’s the man in the dugout, you see. He was one step ahead of those fools in the stands. Why surprise the opposition in the 70th minute when you can surprise them at the start?

“If you were Chelsea and you were predicting our starting line-up you wouldn’t predict Rachel, so we knew that was an advantage,” Skinner later revealed. Cowabunga!

Despite Lauren James pulling one back and thanks to a few Mary Earps stunners, Man Utd held on to win 2-1 but, as his side progressed to the FA Cup final, Skinner made it clear that there’ll be no childish ‘I told you so’ on his part.

“It doesn’t matter, Skinner said when asked about his critics. “Whether you like me or hate me, I’m still going to be the same person; I’m still going to help, I’m still here to make the team the very best, and if I can deliver that for you in the moment and you still hate me? It doesn’t matter.”
It seems cruel that Man Utd fans, willing Skinner to fail, were rewarded for their dissent while Chelsea fans, keen to see their beloved manager’s dynasty end with a fitting bang, are forced to watch on as dog-tired Hayes reneges on a career-long reluctance to accept defeat.

“It’s very frustrating, though, that you’ve now crashed out of the FA Cup as a consequence of decisions that shouldn’t have been made? a journo asked, baiting Hayes into kicking off about a few penalty claims not given.

She replied: “Yeah of course. I can’t do anything about them, can I?”

More at The Square Ball

Lots of handshakes among Leeds United Women's players on a floodlit night when they beat FCUM earlier in the season

Making friends in Division One North

by Flora Snelson

When you just want to make friends, but the referee keeps giving free-kicks.
31/7 logotype in purple and orange