TThere is hardly an act more difficult to prosecute in football than Emma Hayes. Whoever takes over as coach of Chelsea Women will have big shoes to fill. Most managers are appointed when something goes wrong and they need to turn things around. That’s why it’s difficult to get into a successful club.
History has shown that it is difficult to replace legendary managers. When Vic Akers left Arsenal Women in 1997 after ten trophy-laden years, his successor remained in charge for a season and Akers was brought back. He led the club for another decade with great success. I felt like Arsenal wouldn’t be the same without him. Today you can see that the club is really trying to get back to the top with some positive steps, but that is so difficult to achieve.
At Manchester United, the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era was turbulent for the men’s team, with the club jumping from manager to manager without even coming close to replicating Ferguson’s success. United brought in some of the best managers in the world and no one could copy what Ferguson did – or even come close. Arsenal’s men replaced Arsene Wenger with Unai Emery and it didn’t work. Emery is a great manager who plays for Aston Villa. This shows how complex it is to take over a club that has known one way for so long.
On paper, there is a wonderful opportunity at Chelsea to lead one of the best teams in the world, but – without wishing to sound negative – any successor will have a lot to think about because the expectations are so high and the margin for error is miniscule . They need a glass-half-full attitude with the idea that they can take Chelsea forward rather than worrying that they can’t repeat what Hayes did. Whoever is selected will receive a club strengthened by the work Hayes has done to transform the women’s team into a well-oiled machine.
Was I surprised when I heard the news from Hayes? Probably not. I know she is a very ambitious person who likes new challenges and after so many years of success at Chelsea she might want one too. I’m disappointed that she won’t make it in the Women’s Super League because I think she’s a great ambassador, but another part of me feels that this is the competition after a long period of dominance for Chelsea will open during Hayes’ term. She has given Chelsea an aura and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain that when she leaves.
Hayes has provided stability in her 11 years at the helm and when you lose the most important person at a club it is very difficult to find the ideal person to drive things in the same direction.
One of the key elements for Hayes was to future-proof Chelsea. Recruitment there takes up to two years from player identification to signing. That means potential new signings are in the pipeline for the 2025-26 season, with the club having to carry out extensive scouting and due diligence to ensure they are the right fit.
Managers are distinguished not only by their success, but also by the condition in which they leave a club. Hayes is always looking to the future and her transfer dealings have focused on young players with great potential. Seven of this summer’s recruits were under 25, adding to the talented youth in a squad that includes Lauren James, Aggie Beever-Jones and Erin Cuthbert.
The new coach may want to sign some of his own players, but he will add them to one of the most exciting squads in world football. They may want to make changes, but there is no obligation to change what already exists 180 degrees and they have a complete preparation period to implement their ideas.
In the short term, it will be interesting to see how the team reacts to Hayes’ announcement of her departure. I saw them beat Aston Villa 6-0 at the weekend and I think that was their best performance I’ve ever seen. Although moving to a big club like Chelsea is a major selling point, many of these players will have been signed by the manager.
Hayes’ departure creates the first instability and uncertainty in the women’s team in years. It would make her successor’s job easier if Chelsea didn’t win a fifth title in a row and someone could come in with the aim of getting back to the top rather than keeping the club there. But Hayes will want to reach a peak. The hardest thing in any industry is staying at the top, which it has been doing for years, and it won’t want to allow standards to fall in recent months.
Hayes was the benchmark in England, but whether she is replaced by a man or a woman is not relevant – it is about finding the right person for the job. I am sure there will be a number of high-profile individuals associated with this position in the coming months.
Whoever comes in needs the right skills, but more importantly, the right attitude. Hayes did a great job and her legacy is assured. Chelsea’s next manager must seize the opportunity; You shouldn’t be afraid of a full trophy cabinet, but rather look at it as an inspiration.