The 31/7 email logotype in purple and orange
Hi again ⚽️

The Women's Super League season may be over, but my feelings, thoughts and reflections on it are NOT. Thanks for reading a few of them today. Below, I focus on departed Chelsea manager Emma Hayes, but I also talk about:
  • the quest for a quiet life
  • what sniffer dogs can learn from Emma Hayes
  • why Sarina Wiegman would be an irresponsible babysitter
  • Kristie Mewis' latest Design and Technology project


Bomb Squad Blues

Uh-oh. Emma Hayes is burnt out. Thankfully, the season is over, the air full of the smell of cut grass. Schools will soon be out and so begins a blissful summer of catching up on all the time with son Harry that she has lost through her “gruelling” job at Chelsea... Oh, wait.

Sam Kerr was still wiping the goon drool from her mouth when Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson interrupted her title-winning hangover with a public reminder that the shonky-kneed Matilda will miss out on more glory this summer as he announced his Kerr-less squad for the next camp in preparation for Paris 2024.

“I think everyone can do the math here and understand that obviously the Olympic roster will be based mostly out of those that are in this upcoming May/June camp,” Gustavsson said. Fortunately USWNT midfielder Kristie Mewis is well-equipped to do the sums by the short engineering course she is undertaking to help her find a way to accommodate her forever bae in her own Olympic Village cardboard bed.
Meanwhile, Emma Hayes is doing the math on how long she’s got to recover her senses before she’s obliged to go again, finding that 12 years’ work multiplied by 100 percent effort does indeed equal a large head of steam that won’t be let off with one beer-fuelled post-season press conference.

"It has taken its toll," Hayes said of her time at Chelsea, her Champions baseball cap holding back her Prosecco-drenched hair. "I categorically cannot carry on. I don't have another drop to give it.”

By following the advice of football managers everywhere and leaving absolutely everything on the pitch, Hayes is staggering off, breathless, content that her success equals her efforts — quadruple or otherwise.

"I just wanted to create role models that I never had," Hayes said. "I just wanted to create a profession that wasn't possible.

"Women's football will explode. It's already exploded, but it's going to really explode in the next few years. And that was all that I wanted."

She has done it. Hayes pushed Chelsea for a better set-up for the women’s team and, with her coaching talent and people skills, made the most of the support offered to produce several world-class teams and generations of empowered players. That’s pretty cool. But at what cost?
Going for a quadruple is challenging at the best of times, but with the pressure of sentimentality, trying in her final season at the club was, in retrospect, pretty bonkers. One week after she marked her League Cup final defeat with a big shove, Hayes’ swinging fists fell uncharacteristically still as she gave her press conference following Chelsea’s exit from the FA Cup. Looking back now, her ‘it is what it is’ demeanour wasn’t part of some wider conspiracy or another of her mind games — she was exhausted.

Speaking about the challenges facing professional footballers during Mental Health Awareness week earlier this month, Chelsea captain Millie Bright gave some insight into what has guzzled up so much of Hayes’ life force over the last 12 years.

"As athletes, I think we're driven into being thick-skinned and being tough on the outside - so we don't show emotions,” Bright said. "I let my walls down, but only with people like Levi [her partner], my family or Emma Hayes. She knows when I feel like I'm about to explode.

"She's like, 'It's written on your face, I can see it. Tell me what's wrong.' It annoys me that she knows even when I've not said anything! But it's been massive."

This weekend, someone tweeted this picture of Bright in the rudimentary changing rooms in the early years of her Chelsea career. It shows Hayes could foster the kind of relaxed, fun environment which is foundational to personal and team development, with or without the resources.
In the decade since Bright joined Chelsea, the kinds of emotion which Hayes has been sniffing out like a bomb-squad hound have changed with the fresh challenges of a working life which is now hardly recognisable from the environment which Bright first joined.

Back in 2014, outside worries came with Bright through the Cobham gates — will my second job cover the bills? — of the sort which Hayes was powerless to resolve. This season, Bright’s biggest concern was missing out due to the knee injury for which Chelsea now supply specialist treatment.

Until athletes of the future are installed with indestructible bionic knees, support, funding and facilities won’t halt the emotional rollercoaster of life in sport — they’ll only redirect it. Hayes deserves credit not only for pushing for those crucial changes, but bearing the burden of her players’ feelings as they adapted to a rapidly-shifting landscape.

I’m not surprised she’s tired. Her custody of Chelsea FC makes looking after one five-year-old boy as easy as scoring goals against Marc Skinner’s Manchester United.

Over a twelve-year tenure, Hayes’ never-back-down attitude has dragged Chelsea from a semi–professional team fighting relegation from the Women’s Super League to one of the world’s best. Beset with fatigue, Hayes was dogged until the bitter end, dedicating her last breaths as manager of Chelsea FC to further progress.

"I can't keep up with the demands from players on a daily basis, in terms of their emotional needs, in terms of everything, and I've found that to be gruelling this year,” Hayes confessed. “I hope that the club really supports the new manager to get player care and a little bit more performance psychology.

"I really believe in wellbeing, even though I can't take care of it in the same way.

"I've made my suggestions to the sporting directors and I know they'll take it on. It was lovely to have them here today.”
What next for no-days-off Hayes, then? A day off? A three-day bender? A holiday? At least, surely, a few hours laid down in a dark room with a cold compress?

In her book What it Takes, Sarina Wiegman details a tournament-winning psychological strategy by which she sharpened the claws of the Leeuwinnen, the Dutch national team (also nicknamed the Lionesses), in the lead up to their own home Euros win in 2017.

To prepare them for the escalating pressure of progressing through a competition in front of thousands of expectant fans, Wiegman set up a mini tournament in training which mimicked the competitive environment of the European Championship, intentionally goading players by subjecting them to dubious referee decisions which left them frothing at the mouth.

Players were still frothing when Wiegman sent them home to family and friends for the weekend. On their return, players approached Wiegman with reflections on the experience, and the frustration became the starting point for a conversation about how trust and communication are challenged in pressurised situations.

Like a babysitter whipping up excitable kids on Sunny-D and roundabouts, Wiegman didn’t bear the consequence of her provocation, but she later reflected that time away to process an emotional experience was paramount to the helpful conclusions the squad subsequently arrived at.

“I just want a quiet life,” Hayes told the media on Sunday. Earlier, it had been USWNT striker Cat Macario who pushed a reluctant Emma Hayes forward to receive her plaudits from the travelling fans at Old Trafford.

Perceptive Hayes understands the impact of her monster Chelsea tenure on her wellbeing, but will she get a second to learn from all she’s seen and done, or will her latest career move take her from the frying pan into the fire?

More at The Square Ball

Sarah Danby on the ball for Leeds United Women in front of the big stand at Garforth

The Keys To The Pitch

by Flora Snelson

Who is at home? In women's football, writes Flora Snelson, home advantage often comes second to just having anywhere to play at all.
31/7 logotype in purple and orange