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Hello!

Remember Emma Hayes saying ‘the title is done?’ That was six days ago. One weekend of Barclay’s Women’s Super League later and the title is undone again, along with my rapidly-disintegrating sanity as this harem-scarem season comes to a thrilling end.

And yes, I will scream thank you because frankly, I do want to go faster.

So I'm sorry, but today's newsletter is all about HER again. Trust me, though, we should enjoy Hayes while we can before her joining forces with the happy-clappy winning freaks at USA FC becomes too much to stomach.

Enjoy and thank you for reading 🌸
Flora

Best I Say Nothing

It's hard to believe that it was only last week that Chelsea’s title hopes were apparently left dead in the ground after their shock defeat to Liverpool. But now, Blues boss Emma Hayes reckons that we have still not seen all of the sensation which this title race has to offer. After Man City threw away their advantage by losing late to Arsenal on Sunday, the Blues put eight past Bristol City to pull themselves as good as level with their rivals. If both teams win their remaining games, the trophy will be decided by goal difference which, at present, swings marginally in Chelsea’s favour. There’s one goal in it, as it stands, though Hayes is forecasting less detail and more drama.
“I’m sure there’ll be another twist,” she said. “What I know is that my team will not give up. This is who we are.”

But what about you, giving up, in front of the Sky Sports cameras just last week? Prompting us all to go crazy tip tapping away at our keyboards trying to make sense of your bizarre, out-of-character chess move?

“It was the right tactic,” she reflected, confirming that she had said ‘the title is done’ in order to take the pressure off her players. AAAAAAAAAH.

It feels to me that Hayes has the whole football universe on strings, but she doesn’t share that view, and sees her media duties as a complex game of which she is the persistent loser. Ever-unfiltered, Hayes has never held back, but with her time in the WSL coming to a close, and with so little of her quadruple left to lose, it must be hard to find a reason to censor herself.

“This [press conference] isn’t about anything else than, in my opinion, getting you lot paid tomorrow,” she told a room full of journalists after the Bristol match. Earlier in the day, Hayes had been pulled by Sky for a pre-match interview and politely declined the opportunity to bullshit. “It don’t matter what I say, you’re going to turn the narrative into something else,” she said. “So it’s probably best I say nothing about it and say I’m looking forward to the game today.”
Not a single shit given. As suggested, though, the game spoke for itself. Since Hayes publicly gave up last week, it seems that her players have refused to follow suit. Normally, plucking the ball from the back of the net in order to quickly restart the game in pursuit of another goal is an act reserved for at least the second half, perhaps the first if your team is trailing badly and early.

But just six minutes into Chelsea’s game against Bristol City, Guro Reiten dispatched a penalty for Chelsea and immediately grabbed the ball to get her side underway again. Hayes had decided they needed at least six goals to be in with a chance of beating City to the punch and Reiten was listening. Across the evening, she almost wore her badge off her chest, emphatically slapping it after each of her four goals.

Johanna Ryttin Kaneryd wasn’t ready to give up either, picking the ball up after Niamh Charles scored the sixth. Sixth! 6-0 and we want more. That’s the mentality that has made Chelsea famous over the last few years — and the one that helped them twice equalise against Liverpool last week. They won’t lie down, and neither will their fans. One of them took to Twitter full of rage when Hayes put Fran Kirby on for her final appearance at Kingsmeadow when the score was only 2-0 at half time: ‘SENTIMENTALITY WON’T WIN YOU TITLES. WHAT IS EMMA DOING. WE NEED GOALS.'

Fortunately Kirby had a hand in several of the six second-half goals that Chelsea scored which I’m sure helped that one fan feel really good about having shared that emotional passing thought with hundreds of people on the internet.
Emma Hayes is sick of the internet, she’s sick of journalists, she’s sick of people hanging on her every word. And yet, she can’t stop producing gif-able, headline-grabbing, column-filling moments. After beating Bristol, she took to the Kingsmeadow field with Maren Mjelde and Fran Kirby — who are also leaving Chelsea at the close of this season — as well as son Harry to say goodbye to the fans who have supported her throughout her 12-year tenure.

She thanked Mjelde, Kirby, her ‘work husband’ general manager Paul Green, her loyal friend and assistant manager Denise Reddy – who will follow Hayes to the States — and a couple of behind-the-scenes names departing without the fanfare afforded to herself, Mjelde and Kirby. And then she paused, and said: “But let me be clear. It’s not fucking over (sorry Harry). And there is no time for sentimentality, all work drinks are cancelled, there’s a title to be won.” And the crowd went wild.

I have been both fascinated and irritated by the way that Hayes has been the centre of attention in recent weeks. Sometimes it’s better to just drop the narrative and enjoy the football, as per her own instructions — especially when this WSL season has been more exciting than most.

Watching her orate to such effect in front of a stadium full of people, though, made me realise what has drawn me to her all along. When I think about women using their voices, I’m imagining Emma Watson politely putting her debating society experience to good use at the UN, or Suella Braverman screeching like it’s 1933. Hayes, along with Sarina Wiegman, has given me a positive role model of women in leadership roles, and I don't recall connecting with someone in that way before. In recent years, and particularly this season, I have seen Hayes challenged by journalists and sweating under pressure. It hasn’t always been perfect but it’s always been bloody good.

You don’t have to scroll too far through YouTube comments to find users gleefully heralding the collapse of Hayes’ quadruple dream because ‘it couldn’t happen to a more arrogant person’. Hayes has never been judged by the same standards as José Mourinho or Jürgen Klopp because she’s a woman, but she doesn’t care. She’s got the trophies, she’s nailed the legacy, and her influence will be felt in women’s football and beyond long after she leaves London.

More at The Square Ball

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