Emma Hayes nominated for The Best FIFA Women's Coach 2017 award
The 40-year-old Londoner has won two English league titles with Chelsea
She speaks about her love of coaching and her hometown’s passion for football
Emma Hayes was, she sees now, born to coach. “Even when I was at school, I used to do things like community sports leadership awards – things that involved organisation and teaching,” the Chelsea Ladies manager reflected. “Now I really couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
But though she describes coaching as “the job I was meant for”, destiny did not always seem to be beckoning. “Growing up, I never dreamt this could be a career for me,” she admitted to FIFA.com. “I loved football and I played the game, but I assumed it would be a hobby. You just didn’t see women making their living from roles like this back then.”
The turning point arrived in devastating circumstances, with an ankle injury that forced her to stop playing aged just 17. “I was gutted. But that injury, if nothing else, propelled me into becoming a coach.”
Determined to stay in the game, Hayes began assembling an impressive array of coaching qualifications. Then, still in her early 20s, she made a bold and career-defining decision: “I took £1,000 and a backpack and moved to America.”
“I didn’t feel at the time that there were any opportunities in England, so I went with the target of getting a job,” she explained.
“Believe it or not, my big ambition at that stage was to become coach of the US women’s national team. I was aiming high! That didn’t happen, but working there – seeing how women were embraced in the profession - inspired me. I progressed quicker there than I would have done anywhere else and, by the time I was 25, I was already coaching semi-professional teams. I have a lot to thank America for.”
Chelsea will be just as grateful for the American education that moulded Hayes into one of the women’s game’s foremost coaches. The 40-year-old’s place among the elite, and her title-winning exploits, were recognised last month when she was nominated for The Best FIFA Women's Coach award.
But though Hayes describes her place on the shortlist as “a real honour”, it is not adulation or glory that keeps her in the job she loves. “The best part about coaching? People,” she said without hesitation. “I love people. It’s a demanding job, but you’re impacting people’s lives – hopefully for the better – and that’s something I really relish.
“When you see girls playing for their countries or picking up medals, having seen the struggles they’ve gone through, it doesn’t get any more rewarding than that.”
*Hayes on... coaching influences Tony DiCicco: “I was very fortunate to count Tony as a colleague and a friend. He was a trailblazer in women’s football, a great person and a great mentor and teacher for me.”*
*Vic Akers: “Vic was ahead of the game in terms of setting professional standards even when the players weren’t professionals. I was blessed to work alongside him as assistant at Arsenal.”
*Jose Mourinho: “I have such respect for his mentality and his ability to adapt tactically from match to match.”
*Arsene Wenger: “He produced a brand of football that is second to none. There is a creativity to his style that has definitely influenced me and which I admire greatly.” *
*Antonio Conte: “I’ve been blessed to see him build a system and way of working here at Chelsea. Watching the best at work is one of the big privileges of this job.”*
Hayes on... London hosting The Best FIFA Football Awards “I’m a proud Londoner and I think it’s great. London is a city that definitely has football at its heart. I saw that growing up, when I used to go around the various grounds. One week I’d be at QPR, the next at Barnet, the next somewhere else. Every community will have a football club front and centre. London might be a big, global city but football still dominates a lot of the culture here.”