Emma Hayes said she is pleased Chelsea remained competitive this season despite having a squad in transition as she prepared for the Women’s Super League title to be decided on Sunday.
“We’re in a healthy place,” said the manager, who will say goodbye to the long-serving Ji So-yun, Jonna Andersson and Drew Spence at the end of the campaign. “I think we had an ageing squad, we’ve had to try and address that balance and to compete while transitioning. That’s really tough. As a coach it’s why I’m pleased we’re in the position to compete, because that’s the hardest thing to do.”
Chelsea are one point clear of Arsenal going into the final day of the season and will win a third consecutive title if their result at home to Manchester United is not bettered by Arsenal, who play at West Ham. The journey has not been easy for Hayes amid injuries, key absences during the Asia Cup and worries about the fatigue suffered by the England forward Fran Kirby.
“I would say [the bonds are deeper and stronger as a result],” said Hayes. “Man City had trouble at the beginning part of the year and they struggled. We lost Magda Eriksson for three months, Pernille Harder for large chunks, the girls at the Asian Cup for large chunks, Melanie Leupolz, Maren Mjelde. We expected Maren to be back last August, we’d planned for Maren to be back – huge losses. My question is how many top teams would have coped with that and still be there?”
If there is pressure going into the final day, and an FA Cup final against City the next Sunday, Hayes says she is not feeling it. “I’m from a council estate. Trust me, pressure was putting money on the table to pay the bill; this is not pressure. Look at the cost of inflation, look at the rising costs for people paying the bills.
“This is far from pressure; this is a joy, I love my job. I enjoy the situation but more importantly I enjoy representing a club that I absolutely adore and to be in a position where we can continue to win on behalf of Chelsea is something I think I was born for.”
Her Arsenal counterpart, Jonas Eidevall, has not abandoned hope of winning the title but said football management was for dreamers and did not rank as a good career choice for realists. The Swede is a self-declared “optimist” and, on paper at least, his team face the more winnable fixture given that Chelsea’s opponents retain hope of leapfrogging City to claim the third and final Champions League position.
“I don’t know if you can be realistic in football,” Eidevall said when asked whether second place would realistically represent an achievement at the end of his first campaign in England. “Football’s about having dreams and fulfilling them. I don’t think I’d a very good manager if I was realistic.
“You have to be an optimist. I see myself as inspirational and visionary. I don’t care if it’s realistic or not but I want to fulfil my dreams. In a world full of people telling you what you can’t do, you have to remember what you can do. To be an achiever, it’s important to be an optimist.”
After signing an extension to his Arsenal contract to 2024, Eidevall said he was in relaxed mood as he endeavours to end his club’s three‑year trophy drought. “We can only control what we can control by winning at West Ham,’ said Eidevall. “But Manchester United are a really top, top team and I hope they can prove it one final time this season.”
Whatever happens Arsenal’s manager – who said his England midfielder Jordan Nobbs was having “ongoing assessments” to determine the extent of the knee injury that threatens to sideline her from this summer’s European Championship – believes that in football it is as important to travel as to arrive.
“It’s how you do things that matters,” said Eidevall. “If the process is right, in time, you will win trophies but it’s the way [the journey] to winning a trophy that’s interesting. The trophy is just the byproduct.”
He has enjoyed working with his men’s counterpart, Mikel Arteta, at Arsenal. “He’s a very inspirational leader,” said Eidevall, who sat alongside the Spaniard as they both signed new contracts. “Every time I speak to Mikel I learn something; and his door is always open, which is lovely.”