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Emma Hayes: Chelsea manager and ruthless winner who changed WSL forever

Emma Hayes and Millie Bright
Emma Hayes has won 13 major trophies in 11 years at Chelsea

Emma Hayes will go down as one of Chelsea's greatest managers when she leaves the club at the end of the season - and her role in helping grow the Women's Super League must not be forgotten.

Chelsea announced on Saturday that Hayes, who has been in charge of the Blues since 2012, will depart in the summer to pursue "a new opportunity outside the WSL and club football".

Her tenure has been nothing short of sensational, having wrapped up 13 major trophies, including four successive WSL titles between 2019 and 2023.

Widely regarded as one of the game's most influential coaches, Hayes was responsible for building a Chelsea dynasty that has seen them dominate English football for the past decade.

The 47-year-old has not only transformed Chelsea, but laid foundations to ensure the club can enjoy success for years to come.

When she first arrived at the club in 2012, Hayes brought with her the experience and education gained from her time in the United States in her roles as head coach and director of football operations at Chicago Red Stars. She may well return to the USA after departing Chelsea, as one of the leading candidates to become the new manager of the United States national team.

It was in the USA that Hayes saw what level women's football could reach - they were world leaders in the sport at international level - and she hoped one day English football could find parity.

Knowing success on the pitch would help give her the tools needed to build a sustainable future, Hayes went about forming a squad capable of delivering silverware she knew could be used as bargaining tools to get what she wanted.

As Hayes and her squad delivered on the pitch, she received support off it from Chelsea. Together, the Camden-born manager and the west London club have set the standards their WSL rivals are now chasing.

The silverware Hayes has won during her 11-year tenure has thrust her into the limelight, but her influence at Chelsea will be felt far beyond the white lines of the football pitch she teaches in.

During her WSL career, Hayes explored every possible avenue to achieve success, using science and research to delve into areas which had not yet been looked at - constantly challenging the league, her club and her staff to improve.

She has been a spokesperson for women's health, advocating for research on menstrual cycle patterns, encouraging studies on the relationships between female footballers and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, and pushing for education in nutrition.

Emma Hayes celebrates winning the Women's Champions League quarter-finals in 2023
Emma Hayes has never won the Women's Champions League with Chelsea but they are in it again this season

While the women's game has continued to evolve in England on the pitch, Hayes has ensured Chelsea are always ahead of the pack and they have adapted alongside the league.

Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United have posed as challengers during Hayes' reign, but her ability to strengthen the squad each transfer window and maintain a winning culture cannot be overstated.

She created a professional environment in which her players had everything they needed to perform and Hayes took away any excuse not to win.

Her ruthless nature, that has delivered so much success, was seen in the club's 2022 Netflix documentary. In one clip she delivered a team talk in which she vowed to replace her players and "find better ones" if they did not deliver.

It has been an effective approach throughout her Chelsea career and Hayes targeted players in the transfer market she knew would thrive in a demanding environment.

After being knocked out of the Women's Champions League semi-finals in 2018, Hayes pulled off one of her biggest coups to sign Australia striker Sam Kerr, fighting off interest from six-time European winners Lyon.

A year later, Chelsea signed Wolfsburg's Pernille Harder for a world-record fee as Hayes pursued that elusive European crown.

While it has been the one piece of silverware to evade Hayes during her Chelsea career, her side has come closer than any other English club to winning it since Arsenal's historic victory in 2007 - when Hayes was the Gunners' assistant manager.

When Hayes leaves in the summer as Chelsea's most decorated head coach, it is the number of trophies she has won that will be celebrated most.

But her biggest legacy is the impact she has had on the future of the English women's game.

A role model for female coaches, a spokesperson for equal opportunities and a driver of professional standards in the WSL - Hayes' influence on the growth of the game has been immense.

While her departure will leave a gaping hole to fill at Chelsea, she has put in structures to help youth development, recruitment and scientific research.

She has given female coaches the confidence to challenge stereotypes, encouraged her players to take responsibility and grow into leaders and has set standards of success on the pitch.

Whatever impact Hayes leaves behind on a daily basis, women's football in England will never be the same again. It will be better because of her.

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