- Emma Hayes earns second-successive nomination for The Best FIFA Women’s coach
- She led Chelsea to the double in England and Champions League semis
- Achieved all three while heavily pregnant
“I don’t think I have ever worked a day in my life. Every day I get out of bed and do what I love. This is my passion; it’s a joy to go to work every day. To be nominated for something I love doing just seems ridiculous.”
Even for those familiar with Emma Hayes’ intense commitment to football, her visceral adoration for the game still catches you off balance.
But anyone who tuned into the Women’s FA Cup final got a clear glimpse of her dedication, as a heavily pregnant Hayes – just a couple of weeks from giving birth – celebrated the first half of a famous Chelsea double with her players on the Wembley pitch.
“It wasn’t like I knew I was going to conveniently give birth at the end of the season!” the two-time The Best FIFA Women’s Coach nominee told FIFA.com, having juggled the challenges of pregnancy and masterminding a trophy-laden season. “Like any mother will tell you, you don’t really know what to expect.”
While she had to miss her side triumphing in an unbeaten Women’s Super League season a few days on from FA Cup glory, as she could have gone into labour at any moment, her maternity hiatus lasted little more than a few hours. She was still in her hospital bed as she signed a player for the upcoming season.
“It’s not the [transfer] window’s fault I was pregnant or giving birth at that time! I just had to make sure we got our business done. What you don’t want to do is be halfway through the season and say, ‘I wish I had taken that phone call’. That’s the life of a football manager.”
“I thought that was a massive moment for the club, beating a top German side (in the Champions League Round of 32). It was a hard game.”
Seeing off City
“I thought we were apart from Manchester City this year but we overcame the hurdle of beating them (in the FA Cup). It was a big turning point.”
Amid the challenges and successes on the field, guiding the Blues to the UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-finals, Hayes also had to fight her own private battle with grief. Having been set to give birth to twins, Harry and Albie, only Harry made it. In the thick of a pivotal stage of season, Hayes chose to keep Albie’s passing from the team. It’s a loss she has admitted she probably won’t ever fully get over, but also knows she has been blessed by having Harry in her life.
His football education has already begun, too – taking in Chelsea’s pre-season trips to Montpellier and Barcelona. “He’s already been to two countries in the first few weeks of his life,” Hayes beamed. “That’s how I hope for him to go on, to become a traveller!”
Little does he know, his mum is achieving something special. Named as one of the best ten coaches in the women’s game for the second successive year, Hayes does not attempt to brush off the honour with humble platitudes.
“When I look at the list of coaches, to be considered amongst that elite is a real special feeling for me,” she said with heartfelt pride. “I’m not from a privileged background, so for me to be reaching the heights in my career - not that it surprises me as I always felt I was going to reach the top - is another reminder that you can make anything happen in your life if you really want it. That’s how it feels to me being nominated.”
Having seen her playing aspirations cut short through injury, the 41-year-old has been coaching for half her life, taking in every role possible on the way. “There have to be set-backs; my career is not pretty straight lines all the way to the top,” she reflected. “It’s had its disappointments, I’ve had plenty of failures, I’ve made millions of mistakes.
“I just haven’t missed a single step as a coach. It’s the journey you have to make to become the best.”
Hayes’s path to the top
Learning the ropes
Started out in the USA, coaching semi-professional and college teams, while also working as an assistant. “Learning how to be a No2 made me a better No1. It certainly improved me as a coach.”
A top-level apprenticeship
Returning home, she joined Arsenal as assistant coach under Vik Akers, where they won the quadruple. “He always made sure the standards were high. Vik’s still very much involved in my career and I have a lot to thank him for.”
Find her feet as a No1
Having had the chance to replace Akers at Arsenal, Hayes opted for a challenging role at Chicago Red Stars. “I wanted to challenge myself in a place where I knew there would be a lot of pressure. I opted for the difficult choice and it’s one I don’t regret.”
Flourishing at Chelsea
Having joined in 2012, Hayes has now built a team capable of European success. “It’s no accident that we are where we are. I think we have become one of the top four teams in Europe.”