Eni Aluko returns home this week as Chelsea Women face her new side, Juventus, at Kingsmeadow. It’s a friendly – and a reunion – that manager Emma Hayes is greatly looking forward to. “She’s family!” said Emma. “And she’s always welcome. I know she’ll find it a little bit odd wearing a different jersey, but
Eni Aluko returns home this week as Chelsea Women face her new side, Juventus, at Kingsmeadow.
It’s a friendly – and a reunion – that manager Emma Hayes is greatly looking forward to.
“She’s family!” said Emma. “And she’s always welcome. I know she’ll find it a little bit odd wearing a different jersey, but she’s really enjoying herself and I’ll make sure we don’t kick her in the game! It’ll be great to see her.”
Juventus Femminile, to give the opponents their full name, are a comparatively young women’s club, though attached to one of Europe’s most venerable outfits. Emma’s thoughts on what experience they’ll gain from facing England’s champions?
“I think they’ll learn you don’t get there quickly,” she said. “Everybody has ambitions to win the Champions League, but the likes of Lyon and Wolfsburg are not going to let go of that as fast as others want them to.
“If you’re going to challenge seriously with the top teams you have to put in place a road map and an infrastructure that is solid over a period of time before it can genuinely challenge.”
Wednesday evening’s match, which kicks off at 7pm, with tickets just £3 for adults, £1 juniors (a generous U20) and seniors. They can be bought up until 5.30pm on matchday at the mobile ticket office on wheels at Kingsmeadow, or online at https://www.chelseafc.com/en/tickets—membership/buy-tickets?team=women
For Emma, giving birth at the end of last season was a life-changing event, and little Harry is doing well. “Of course it changes you, becoming a mum,” she said. “But I honestly don’t know what life was like before him. On one hand, it’s like nothing else you could describe and there’s no amount of preparation you can do to prepare you for a baby. But now he’s in the world, I don’t know what took me so long to get round to this point.
“He’s the best! I am gushing in love with my son. I’m enjoying be a parent no end, even without the sleep, and I certainly think it will improve me as a coach.”
Apparently motherhood has changed Emma’s approach to football and training. “Yes, some of the players have commented that I’m coaching differently and I’m putting that down to the fact I have to be really organised with my time,” she said.
“I’m more direct than ever with the players. Of course, I’ve got to be more sensitive than ever, because I’m a parent, and I’m looking after a group of people who have always expected me to be quite maternal, which I am naturally. So I just get the chance to be a parent of 40 during the day and then of one when I get home in the evening.”
Now with 23 babysitters to call on, Emma said she’d appointed Millie Bright and Karen Carney “as the chief babysitters”, with Hannah Blundell informing the coach that she doesn’t like babies very much… “So I’m going to have to wait until he’s a toddler before I’ll get her playing football with him!”
Emma has bought a sling for Harry, so she can carry him about during training, and bring him up to speed with coaching techniques.
With a shake-up in her squad, Wednesday night’s game will be a chance to see some new faces. “There’s no amount of words we can use to talk about Claire Rafferty, Eni Aluko, Katie Chapman, Gemma Davison, Becky Spencer and Gilly Flaherty,” admitted Emma. “These are players who have been part of winning five trophies since I’ve been here and, more importantly, setting the culture and the tone. I know women’s football is in safe hands because those players will go on and improve their clubs no end, as a result of what they’ve experienced here.
Emma still hasn’t named her new captain for the season, to replace Katie, but that announcement is imminent.
Her key target for the season is to hold on to the league trophy. “That’s your bread and butter,” she said. “The priority is actually qualifying for the Champions League; second priority is winning the league, then the FA Cup and then the Continental Cup. Sitting all around that is the Champions League.”
The first league game is against arch-rivals Manchester City. “Yeah, we have to thank the league organisers for thinking about putting bums on seats for that one!” laughed Emma. “Listen, we’re ready to play Man City whenever that is, whether it’s the first game, middle game or last.”
Chelsea v Juventus, Wednesday August 8, 7pm at Kingsmeadow. Tickets £3, under 20s £1, seniors £1. Buy on the evening up until 5.30pm at the ticket caravan, or online at https://www.chelseafc.com/en/tickets—membership/buy-tickets?team=women