Emma Hayes and the performance imperative for women in football
Written by Simon Austin — May 11, 2021
THERE isn’t a unified manager of the year award, but if there was, it would be hard to look beyond Emma Hayes this season.
The Chelsea Women’s boss has already won the League Cup, retained the WSL title and will bid for the Champions League title against Barcelona in Gothenburg on May 16th.
If they win, Chelsea will become the first English club since Arsenal in 2007 to win the tournament. The season ends with the FA Cup final (date TBC) and the chance for Hayes and her side to win the quadruple.
The fact that Chelsea Women are the pre-eminent side in England and possibly even Europe is down primarily to Hayes and her strength of personality, her passion and her perseverance.
When Casey Stoney played for the West London club, from 2007 to 2011, she remembers: “You couldn’t get anything, not even a tracksuit from the club back then.”
Now owner Roman Abramovich takes a close interest in the side, even inviting them to Tel Aviv last August to play a friendly against the Israel national team.
Little wonder that the leading football journalist and author Michael Calvin describes Hayes, who has been manager of Chelsea Women since 2012, as “the most intriguing coach in English football.”
At the start of February, Hayes was linked with the vacant manager’s job at League One AFC Wimbledon and said: “It’s an insult to them (Chelsea Women) that we talk about women's football being a step down, with the dedication and the commitment and the quality they have.”
Appearing on the TGG Podcast (which you can listen to above), Hayes said the very question of whether a woman could manage in men’s football was slightly ridiculous.
“This whole notion that women are from Venus, men are from Mars… I’m sure we are in some ways in our personalities, but I don’t know why the world thinks we play two different sports,” she said.
“It’s just bonkers to me to think we are in a profession where we don’t have any diversity. That part of it is bonkers. I’d be interested to know which professions still exists which are so homogenous. I’m not sure they do exist.
“It will be a big jump for someone when that happens (a woman manages a men’s team) but what I do know is that how you win a football match, regardless of the gender, is exactly the same thing.
“And the type of work you do doesn’t change just because I’m coaching women. I don’t say, ‘Oh this is the women’s game, we prepare them differently than a men’s team.’
“No, they’re prepared exactly the same way. Of course they’re different players, it’s a different league, it’s probably a different speed, but the rest of it is all the same.
“It comes from education and an unconscious bias that everybody has grown up its men’s football and men in football. Our brains take a while to compute that, actually, it’s a bit odd really, isn’t it?”
Yet female coaches remain a rarity in football. This is true not only of the men’s game, where there has never been a female manager in the Premier League or Football League (or a female assistant manager, or Technical Director, or Head of Performance) but in the women’s game too.
When Hayes leads her side out in the Champions League final, she will be the first woman in 12 years to do so, following Duisburg boss Martina Voss (now Voss-Tecklenburg) in 2009.
Only seven of the 24 teams that competed at the 2015 Women’s World Cup had female coaches and just nine at the 2019 tournament, which was won by one, Jill Ellis’s USA.
Look through the staff profiles on this website and you’ll see how few women there are in all of the backroom disciplines, be it medical, performance, coaching or analysis. Of the 449 staff listed at the 20 Premier League clubs, only 15 (3.34%) are female.
Asked whether she could become the first woman to manage in the professional men’s game, Hayes said it wasn’t something she gave too much thought to.
“I never thought I’d end up in coaching,” she said. “I feel fulfilled, so I don’t feel the pressure of, ‘I have to do this next.’ I’ve learnt over the years that whenever you start to think about being somewhere else it’s already goodnight.
“Do I know what’s next in my life? No. I don’t sit there with my little one year, three-year, five year plan. It’s not who I am. I’m very present in my job to perform.”
Hayes said the response to her comments about the AFC Wimbledon job had been “another classic situation to make sure you put a woman in her place to insinuate I was insulting the men’s game, which I never did."
She added: “I just defended my own game and there’s a difference. I work with some unbelievable athletes. I’ve got absolutely absolutely no issues with AFC or being linked with the job. I just thought it was important to speak highly of a group of women who are giving me their heart and soul and are running through brick walls for the football club.”
Seeking more diversity in the game isn’t about political correctness, as Ben Lyttleton outlines in his superb book Edge.
In a chapter on creativity, gender balance expert Aviva Wittenberg-Cox reveals that companies with a mix of men and women in leadership roles out-perform their peers. They have a 53% higher return on equity and are also happier places to work.
“The question should not be why, but why not?” she said.
Professor Kathleen O’Connor, an organisational psychologist at Cornell University, points out that women demonstrate different behaviours to men in a negotiation process, which can be highly beneficial in most industries, including sport.
They will generally fight harder on behalf of the group and be more collaborative. “The command-and-control form of management is outdated, only required in crisis situations and tends to be used by those who feel threatened,” she said.