Emma Hayes: Chelsea manager hailed as a 'trailblazer' as new job awaits

Emma Hayes with Chelsea scarf
Hayes has spent her entire WSL managerial career at Chelsea

"The end of an era".

That is how former Chelsea player Claire Rafferty described news that manager Emma Hayes will leave the club at the end of the Women's Super League season after 12 years at the helm.

Chelsea made the announcement on Saturday, saying the 47-year-old will pursue "a new opportunity outside the WSL and club football".

Former England midfielder Fara Williams pondered how Chelsea would fill a "massive gap", as all signs point to Hayes heading stateside to become head coach of the United States women's national team.

Others have reflected on Hayes' "tremendous" and "trailblazing" career in London, praised her "high expectations" and highlighted her influence on England's top flight.

'Nothing less than extraordinary'

It is testament to Hayes' significant work away from the pitch as well as on it that many are keen to highlight her research around player welfare and progressing the women's game just as much as her 13 major trophies.

"She's done a tremendous job when you see how long she's been in the game and the growth that has occurred within it," said Aston Villa defender Rachel Corsie, speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live.

"She's someone who has really been a trailblazer in a lot of different ways.

"She likes to be proactive with new things. I think she was one of the first coaches that was open to discussing the menstrual cycle impact and how to change training - how do we adapt it, how do we get the best from players?"

Rafferty, who played under Hayes for six years as a left-sided defender and winger, said what the manager has done for the club and league is "nothing less than extraordinary".

"When she joined the club I had seen quite a few managers come and go and she ended up getting rid of quite a few players, there was only a couple of us remaining," Rafferty said.

"She was cut-throat from the beginning, she had high expectations, and the one message that she always shared was that we had to be winning in order for her to be able to ask the directors and the leaders at Chelsea for more.

"That's exactly what happened."

Under Hayes, Chelsea have won six WSL titles - including the last four consecutively - plus five FA Cups and two League Cups.

Corsie explained that many coaches "look to her as a mentor" and such is Hayes' reputation in the game that even rivals are keen to find out what they can learn from her.

Arsenal boss Jonas Eidevall joked that he and other managers in the league will try to make "life in the WSL as difficult and unpleasant for her as possible" until she leaves but that he will look forward to being able to give her a call and talk football at the end of the season.

"I do think she has some really interesting ideas about football and how to build a football team," Eidevall said.

"When you're not direct rivals, I would love to spend a little bit of time with her, listening to her experiences at Chelsea and so on."

Emma Hayes with WSL trophy
Hayes has guided Chelsea to six WSL titles since joining the club in 2012

USA job 'affirmation' for Hayes

Hayes, the most decorated manager in the WSL, is close to being confirmed as manager of the USWNT, with the position having been vacant since Vlatko Andonovski resigned in August after the Women's World Cup.

The four-time winners won back-to-back World Cups in 2015 and 2019 but suffered a shock last-16 exit in Australia, their worst performance on the world stage.

"It's a new opportunity for Emma to go and do something different," said Williams on BBC One.

"I would have liked her to do England national team but we have a fantastic manager currently in place. [The USA job] is something she deserves after a long club career."

Hayes is no stranger to football in the US, having worked as head coach and director of football operations at Chicago Red Stars from 2008-2010, and her proven track record as a winner makes her an attractive candidate for the job.

"They want the best and I think that's almost the recognition and affirmation that they've gone out to find someone they believe is the number one," said Corsie.

"She's someone who loves the game and a lot of people have speculated about what would be next for her - it's certainly a big task if that's the case."

Camden-born Hayes has often been linked with moves to men's teams but has shut down those rumours, saying it is an "insult" to suggest that women's football is a stepping stone to the men's game.

What next for Chelsea?

While Hayes will not leave Chelsea until the end of the season, there will be speculation about who will take over.

Williams "feels sorry" for the person who will try to fill the "massive gap" Hayes' departure will leave.

Assistant coach Denise Reddy took charge of the side when Hayes had an emergency hysterectomy last season, but it has been reported that US Soccer would like Reddy to join Hayes in her new role.

Rafferty said Reddy would be the "natural" choice but that Chelsea may turn to the international scene to find a manager with more pedigree.

"I was thinking about who has the ability to deal with the pressure that Hayes has put Chelsea under because she's been winning for so many years," said Rafferty.

"Maybe an international manager, I have heard people say the likes of Sarina Wiegman, but I know that she is contracted with England."

Wiegman's contract with the Lionesses runs out in 2025.

Questions may also arise about the future of star striker Sam Kerr, along with other players lured to Chelsea by the promise of trophies under Hayes.

The rush of silverware may of course continue under the next manager.

For now, Chelsea will go for a fifth consecutive WSL title and try to lift the trophy that has eluded Hayes - the Champions League.

"It would be an incredible way to sign off - the icing on the cake," said Rafferty.

"It will give that team the extra emotional push to go ahead and do it, and I really hope they do because it's something she's been driving towards for those 11 years she has been at the club.3

"It will be an emotional end to the season and I'm sure there'll be a big party to celebrate, but I also think all good things have to come to an end at some stage and it's only natural for her to want to try something new."