Sunday, May 26, 2024

Chelsea Women: Why Emma Hayes’ legacy is facing toughest examination yet -Dlight News

Chelsea have hit a stumbling block. Another trophy has slipped from their grasp. The Conti Cup was first to fall, now FA Cup dreams have met a similar fate. The fairytale ending up in smoke.

Chelsea have not won any of their last three games in all competitions, their worst run since 2021. Alarm? Panic? Concern? Not from Emma Hayes. She knows better than that.

“No one died, we lost a football match,” Hayes said, pragmatically, after registering 70 per cent possession, 26 shots, eight of which were on target, against Manchester United on Sunday.

Doesn’t sound like the statistics of a losing side, except United scored with both of their two shots on target – the first within 41 seconds of kick off – and will therefore be the ones to take to the Wembley stage to compete for FA Cup silverware in May. The first time Chelsea have missed out on the final since 2020.

Wednesday 17th April 6:30pm

Kick off 7:00pm

Hayes’ reflection was one of disappointment, not disaster. If she were charting priorities, of the three remaining competitions Chelsea were involved in, the FA Cup would presumably finish last. The two biggest prizes in club football are still up for grabs and so very little emotion will be apportioned to what could have been, only what’s still possible.

Hayes never did have much time for sentimentality.

Emma Hayes consoles Lauren James at full time
Emma Hayes consoles Lauren James after Chelsea were beaten by Man Utd in the FA Cup

And so another defining week in Chelsea’s season, Hayes’ final one before the USWNT job beckons, will begin by hosting Aston Villa, live on Sky Sports, on Wednesday, followed by a Champions League trip to competition holders Barcelona on Saturday.

The finale of the Women’s Super League season is just 31 days away and the reigning champs have spent the majority of those days top, 146 to be precise, despite currently trailing Manchester City by three points having played a game less.

But here’s where the pinch points lie.

Emma Hayes' Chelsea lost to Arsenal in the Conti Cup around two weeks ago
Chelsea lost to Arsenal in the Conti Cup final in March

The Blues have suffered with inconsistency more than ever this term, with several key players enduring season-ending injuries, including superstar striker Sam Kerr. It’s made for a league-high 53 changes to starting selections, which often look unbalanced – nine more than any other WSL side.

Fortunately for Chelsea, Hayes calculates how square pegs fit in round holes with better tactical nouse than most, but absence and alteration go some way to explaining why they were defeated in the Conti Cup final by Arsenal in March, and unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup by Manchester United a few days ago. Pressure catching up.

While some football purists may disagree, this writer believes the 47-year-old’s legacy could yet be defined by how these next few weeks unravel. Conclusions form the strongest part of any reasoned argument, after all.

Hayes has won 15 trophies in 12 years at Chelsea, as well as countless personal accolades, including an OBE and three FIFA Best Coach awards, but the way legendary – not a term used lightly – managers bow out matters.

The Sir Alex Ferguson model is the preferred way – leave on a high. Ferguson retired from Manchester United having won the Premier League title in 2013. For comparison, Arsene Wenger departed Arsenal five years later with his side sixth in the league and on the slide, which left a sour taste in the mouths of many long-time Gunners fans, despite Wenger’s vastly immense achievements.

No matter how burdensome, Hayes wants to be remembered as a winner.

And yet, there is a scenario where Chelsea end this season, nay this era, with nothing to show. No grandstand finish. That would be unjust for a manager who has fought harder, campaigned longer and advocated louder for the advancement of the women’s game than any other. She is its champion cheerleader.

Ultimately, though, it is silverware that resonates. Trophies and titles that talk.

Emma Hayes
Hayes has won six WSL titles with Chelsea

Rightly or wrongly, how Hayes negotiates her final six weeks as Chelsea manager will come under greater scrutiny than most of her previous six years combined – and the six before that. She will have to reinvent her depleted side once more if they are to realise the definitive dream: European glory. WSL champions for a record fifth straight time would help too.

The physical and psychological drain of being a serial winner is about to face its sternest examination yet. How will Hayes and Co stand up to the glare of the harshest spotlight?

Watch Chelsea vs Aston Villa, live on Sky Sports Football, on Wednesday; kick-off 7pm

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