KATHRYN BATTE: Emma Hayes stepping away from Chelsea leaves a gaping hole in women’s football… while Aston Villa struggle and Brazil bid for 2027 World Cup
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It has long been hard to imagine Chelsea without Emma Hayes and vice versa.

At the end of the season she will leave the club she has spent 11 years building to take up the role as manager of the United States national team.

She is leaving her home for the biggest job in women’s football. It is an opportunity that does not come around often and one she could not turn down – but those facts did not make the news of her departure any less shocking.

Hayes’ players did not find out until after their 6-0 victory over Aston Villa on Saturday and were just as surprised as her staff members.

One can only imagine how sombre that bus journey home to London must have been. Many of the players and backroom staff at Chelsea are there because of Hayes.

Emma Hayes has won the Women's Super League an incredible six times for her club Chelsea

Emma Hayes has won the Women’s Super League an incredible six times for her club Chelsea

Hayes is an immensly popular figure in Womens football and often interacts well with fans

Hayes is an immensly popular figure in Womens football and often interacts well with fans

Chelsea before their WSL thrashing of Aston Villa, they are currently top of the league

Chelsea before their WSL thrashing of Aston Villa, they are currently top of the league 

In her 11 years, she has amassed 15 trophies. But she has achieved more than just success on the pitch.

English women’s football is indebted to Hayes and the work she has done to raise the profile of the game. She has driven standards, spoken openly and passionately about a number of issues and has never shied away from speaking her mind.

She is also more than just a manager. Hayes has acted as a mother figure to several players that have worn the Blue shirt. Just ask Fran Kirby, Millie Bright or Lauren James. They are just a few of the individuals Hayes has guided and nurtured over the years.

Hayes’ departure will leave a gaping hole in the WSL. That Manchester City boss Gareth Taylor, who joined the club in 2020, is the next longest serving WSL manager, speaks volumes. Longevity is rare and Hayes was in a league of her own.

There may be some who will question how the Football Association could allow England’s best female manager to join a rival nation. The key issue is timing. The Lionesses have one of the world’s best coaches in Sarina Wiegman, who is committed until 2025. 

The FA would like Wiegman to extend her contract but she has given no assurances that she will do so. So in two years time, England may be looking for a new manager – a role which many will say Hayes could have filled.

Would she have been the right fit for England? Would she have wanted that job? Perhaps not. There are a lot of open questions that do not have definite answers. But if an Englishwoman lifts the World Cup with the US it will sting, no doubt about it.

Chelsea have won the last four WSL titles and the last three FA Cups. The only trophy Hayes has not won with the Blues is the Champions League, but she was part of the coaching team at Arsenal when they were victorious in 2007. But ending her reign at Chelsea with success in Europe would be a fitting way to bow out.

Chelsea's Australian star Sam Kerr may look abroad when Hayes leaves the West London club

Chelsea’s Australian star Sam Kerr may look abroad when Hayes leaves the West London club

Hayes has built a dynasty and a winning machine. So, how do Chelsea move on? Hayes had pulling power when it came to signing players. Many moved to west London in order to play for her and it will be interesting to see whether the club continues to attract the very best – or indeed how many current stars may decide to call it quits. 

Sam Kerr, for example, is out of contract at the end of the season. Once Hayes leaves, Kerr may decide she wants to move closer to her family in Australia or her partner in America. Hayes will no doubt be involved in the appointment of her successor and make recommendations, but none of the managers in the WSL would fit the bill.

Casey Stoney, who is currently with American club San Diego Wave, is somebody who potentially could, but she is contracted until 2025 – coincidentally the same year as Wiegman’s England deal ends. Stoney’s family are also settled in the States. 

Chelsea’s player relationships manager Carly Telford was at the Wave’s play-off semi-final on Sunday night. Though Telford used to play for the club, fans may wonder whether her presence was a coincidence and there were a few joke that the former goalkeeper had returned to lure Stoney to London. Laura Harvey has had much success in the US and is another name who may draw interest, but she previously managed Arsenal.

Chelsea have time and it is a decision they have to get right – because whoever comes in has enormous shoes to fill.

Hayes is the greatest female manager this country has produced and the English game will miss her. But it is not quite over yet.

Hayes has just over six months left at Chelsea and four more trophies to win. Make no mistake, she will want to go out with a bang.

 Aston Villa struggle so far

There is no need for Aston Villa to panic, yet. Five defeats from five games has them bottom of the table and boss Carla Ward under pressure, but there is context. 

They have played each of last season’s top three teams and Villa should arguably have picked up points against Manchester United and Arsenal. Against the latter, they led for 67 minutes before conceding two goals in stoppage time. 

There is no getting away from the fact the manner of their defeats against Tottenham and Chelsea were bad. Villa looked resigned to their fate once they went 2-0 down against the Blues and the defending for the fourth, fifth and sixth goals was extremely poor. 

Aston Villa were easily beaten 6-0 by Chelsea during their game against the reigning champions

Aston Villa were easily beaten 6-0 by Chelsea during their game against the reigning champions

But it was never going to be easy for Villa. Their fifth place finish last season was always going to increase expectations. Ward signed a number of new players in the summer who need time to bed in and history has shown that sacking managers at this stage rarely works.

 Everton fired Willie Kirk in similar circumstances in 2021 and the club spiralled. Kirk had guided the Toffees to fifth and the expectation was that they would then challenge for the top three the following season – it was an unrealistic ambition. 

Villa are in the same boat but they have three very winnable games coming up. If they were to lose at Bristol City next weekend, then perhaps they should be worried. 

But Ward has credit in the bank for the work she has done in the last two years and deserves to be given time. She has earned that much.

Brazil set sights on 2027 World Cup

Brazil have announced their intention to bid for the 2027 World Cup and there are many reasons why a tournament in South America would be romantic. 

Brazil has produced some phenomenal players over the years – Marta, Formiga and Christiane to name but a few, but there is a feeling those stars were not supported enough over the years. 

Former boss Pia Sundhage, who was sacked after a group-stage exit this summer, said Brazil needed to ‘step up’. She said in April: ‘Right now we have no U15 national team, or U16, we maybe have U17 and right now the U20 aren’t playing. Girls, or boys, that want to watch the game want to represent Brazil. 

Brazil shockingly crashed out in the group stages of the last World Cup that happened this year

Brazil shockingly crashed out in the group stages of the last World Cup that happened this year

If you’re 15 years old you can do that in England, you can do that in Sweden, but you can’t do that in Brazil.’ The South Americans are up against joint bids from the US and Mexico, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium and a sole bid from South Africa. 

Brazil needs this tournament – the US not so much. But they also have to deliver for their female players. This is their chance to do so.

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