Should Chelsea Women overturn their semi-final first-leg deficit against FC Bayern Frauen at Kingsmeadow this Sunday, their manager Emma Hayes will remarkably become the first woman in 12 years to lead a team into the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final.
Not since the current German national team coach, Martina Voss (now Voss-Tecklenburg), led FCR 2001 Duisburg to victory in the 2009 UEFA Women’s Cup, the current competition’s forerunner, has a woman achieved this feat. Her compatriot Monika Staab is the only other female coach to win the competition in 2002 with 1 FFC Frankfurt. Staab also coached Frankfurt to the final in 2004. Since the competition was re-branded as the UEFA Women’s Champions League the following year, the coaches of the seven different teams to have played in the eleven finals since have all been male.
This statistic is all the more surprising considering that many of the recent international competitions have been won by teams led by female coaches, such as the United States’ Jill Ellis, the winner of the last two FIFA Women’s World Cups, the Netherlands’ Sarina Wiegman, winner of the 2017 UEFA Women’s Euro, and Germany’s Silvia Neid, winner of one World Cup, two Euros and Olympic Gold. Seven of the top ten national teams are coached by women.
Despite this, men’s coaches have predominated in the European women’s club game. The most successful team of all, Olympique Lyonnais, has won seven Champions League titles under four different male coaches but following their quarter-final elimination to Paris Saint-Germain last month, they ended the contract of Jean-Luc Vasseur, to appoint former captain Sonia Bompastor as the first woman to coach the first team. Club President Jean-Michel Aulas said “the most important positions in the women’s team should be held by women.”
Speaking to me ahead of their Champions League semi-final second leg on Sunday, Hayes concurs, “I think the women’s soccer world has taken a while to wake up to female coaches. Thankfully, there’s many more of them across our league in particular. We have to make sure we’re ready for these jobs, and these positions.”
Half of the current coaches in the English Women’s Super League are currently female, compared to only one of the eleven head coaches in the United States’ National Women’s Super League (NWSL). Hayes believes that the growing critical mass of female coaches in England will soon consign her position as a lone standard bearer for women to history. “I think if you’ve seen the number that are being hired across the game now. It’s certainly more reflective of society. It will become more normal that a female coach may be part of the finalists. Hopefully, that’s something I can fulfill at the weekend. Hopefully that becomes a norm.”
Hayes cut her managerial teeth at the turn of the century at the Long Island Lady Riders and Iona College before coaching the Chicago Red Stars in the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) league for two years. She was hired by Chelsea in 2012 and since 2015 has led them to nine trophies making her the most successful manager in the entire club’s history overtaking the legendary José Mourinho who won eight different titles in two spells at the helm of the men’s team.
This season, Hayes has already led Chelsea to the first-ever FA Women’s Community Shield and retained the FA Women’s League Cup. The team only require two more victories to secure Hayes a record fourth Women’s Super League title and the side are still in the Women’s FA Cup. An assistant coach at Arsenal Ladies in 2007 when the team won an unprecedented “quadruple” of trophies, Hayes is potentially eight wins from incredibly winning all five competitions the club entered at the start of the season. “I’m sure it would be an immense achievement for any team to do it”, she admitted.
Despite a massive financial investment in recent years, no Women’s Super League team has reached the Champions League final since that Arsenal side 14 years ago. Nine English teams have been eliminated at this stage in the intervening years. Chelsea themselves have previously lost two semi-finals, the last to Lyon in 2019 after narrowly losing the first leg 2-1 but not being able to turn the game around on home soil in the second leg.
Now, once again trailing 2-1 going into a second leg, this time to FC Bayern, defender Millie Bright explained to me the lessons they have learned from that narrow failure two years ago. “I think just being brave going into the game. It’s obviously vital that we get a goal. I think just staying patient with that, we don’t need to come out and rush that. Remaining positive, making sure we stay together as a team is definitely crucial, which I think we do in most games. Staying switched on – there’s no time to switch off in these games. It’s a big game, if you do switch off then Bayern will punish you. For everyone to know their roles. To be bold in the game and take our chances.”