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Making Hayes While the Sun Shines

Emma Hayes to take USWNT position ahead of 2024 Paris Games

When asked whether anyone could stop Chelsea winning a fifth consecutive Women’s Super League, Robyn Cowen replied: ‘Probably not…It’s like…death, taxes and Chelsea winning the WSL title.’ Indeed, with six WSL trophies, five FA Cups and many more honours besides, Chelsea success seems more inevitable than most sporting unknowns. Their winning ways are in large part due to the eleven-year management spell of Emma Hayes, now one of the most recognisable figures of the women’s game. But the announcement of her departure following a 6-0 victory over Aston Villa was the beginning of a new, rather more global chapter in Hayes’ impressive career.

At 3:01pm on Saturday November 4th, Chelsea released a statement saying that Hayes was leaving to pursue ‘a new opportunity outside of the WSL and club football.’ It was clear where she was headed, even without the whisperings surrounding the exit. The US Women’s National Team managerial post had been conspicuously vacant after Vlatko Andonovski stood down from the role after an uncharacteristically early exit from the round-of-sixteen at the 2023 World Cup. There are few jobs in world football as prestigious as that of the USWNT head coach, given their historic dominance. Emma Hayes seems to have recognised that, having ‘previously pointed out links she has had to vacancies within men’s football’, and the recognition that comes along with it.

The official announcement from the USSF arrived on Tuesday. Hayes is due to complete the rest of the WSL season and take up her new post in May, just prior to the Paris Olympics. This tight turnaround has raised questions about how Hayes will juggle Olympic preparations and the fixture list at the end of Chelsea’s domestic season. There is also the additional focus of the Champions League — Hayes’ Achilles heel while at the north London club — the final of which falls in late May and in which she would undoubtedly like to play a part.

A WSL without Hayes is a strange thought. She has been an enduring fixture for over a decade and her legacy is plain to see. When she arrived at Chelsea, the women’s team was an afterthought; she fought for the facilities and equipment that helped them onto their current pedestal and led the way for league-wide development. On the touchline, her pragmatic ‘win-first’ approach to the game has made her a ‘serial winner’ across Europe. Arguably however, it is her player management that make her the optimum choice for the USWNT. Her ability to nurture talent, as evidenced by players like Millie Bright and Niamh Charles, now pillars of Wiegman’s Lionesses, and tame dressing room egos stands her apart from the crowd.

Emma Hayes has unfinished business stateside. Her disastrous managerial debut with the Chicago Red Stars in 2008 is a superb juxtaposition to show just how far she has come. What remains to be seen is whether Hayes’ coaching prowess can lift the USWNT out of its historic rut, and how much the vacuum left by her absence at Chelsea will upset the WSL status quo.

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