Chelsea Women’s manager Emma Hayes wants her players to act like geese as they face the most important week in the club’s history. Facing the critical last day of the league season on Sunday, when the Blues have to win to guarantee retaining last year’s ‘Covid title’, she urged the squad to follow the birds,
Chelsea Women’s manager Emma Hayes wants her players to act like geese as they face the most important week in the club’s history.
Facing the critical last day of the league season on Sunday, when the Blues have to win to guarantee retaining last year’s ‘Covid title’, she urged the squad to follow the birds, look out for each other… and honk!
“It’s important that some different geese lead the formation,” said the manager most of the world now regards as The Golden Goose of women’s football, relishing developing the analogy to incorporate more aspects of waterfowl behaviour.
“They take the wind resistence for the rest, so changing leaders is something that’s pretty normal in our environment.
“As we all know with geese, they’re pretty loyal to their cause. They support each other. If a goose gets injured, two other birds always accompany them to the ground. So the fact is that we support each other.
“My message to the team is: ‘Honk hard at the person in front of you!’ If you didn’t know, honking in goose culture is to make the one in front of you speed up. So I want to see a few V-formations on Sunday.”
Asked about her ecstatic (and sweary) reaction on television to Chelsea’s remarkable success over two legs of the Champions League semi-final against Bayern, which led BT to issue apologies to its mid-afternoon family audience, Hayes said: “Listen. Why do we love football? Because it’s so bloody unpredictable. I can’t tell you how I’m going to feel on Sunday, or the next Sunday, but we love it because it’s a game of emotions. Most of the time we have to reserve those emotions to perform our jobs.”
With the possibility of Chelsea’s men and women scaling incredible heights this season, it’s also turning into a remarkable and memorable year for the entire football club – overshadowing, though not burying, the boardroom debacle that saw the club join five other Premier League teams in the aborted European Super League, without a care for the inevitable backlash it would spark.
Although fans are not in the mood to forgive and forget (one of the clearest placards at the famous supporters’ protest outside Stamford Bridge that helped prompt the climbdown read: Buck Off, referring to American chairman Bruce Buck), the climax to the past month or two will provide a welcome distraction.
Hayes has been diplomatic over the issue, even though the women’s team was treated just as badly as club fans… as an afterthought appendage to the European clubs’ secret negotiating in which only the men’s status determined which women’s clubs would compete in a parallel contest excluding the likes of Lyon, Wolfsburg, Bayern and PSG.
“It’s a fab feeling for everyone internally,” said Hayes when asked about the significance for the club as a whole, before claiming (curiously) “this is a family-run club, with the board very closely connected to all the teams”.
With both teams qualifying for their [Champions League] finals, there’s unanimous joy at the club, said Hayes, adding that the WSL title – should Chelsea secure it – would mean so much more this year than the points-per-game mathematical calculation that led to the Blues being awarded the honour last year.
Bar the long-term injured Maren Mjelde (now off crutches and literally making strides towards a full recovery), Hayes has a full squad to pick from ahead of Sunday afternoon’s clash with Reading at Kingsmeadow.
If rivals Man City (who are away to West Ham – same day, same time) drop points, Chelsea could get away with a draw.
But Hayes has the title chase in her control, and is going all-out for victory on what promises to be a hot afternoon (20 degrees plus), when both sides will be seeking water breaks.
“I’ll see how everybody moves on Saturday and then put a team together that we think will be the right game plan to beat Reading,” she said. “I think we’ve looked the dominant team all season.”
Captain Magda Eriksson said: “It won’t be difficult to focus on Sunday. Every game has different mental and physical challenges. We have had the pressure to win every game since the season started, and we’ve had to learn to deal with that kind of pressure. One of our strengths is that we’ve been able to do it.”
Going all the way in all competitions was, she said, the ambition from the start of the season. “It was tough to be out for a couple of weeks, although the team did really, really well. I tried to be a calm voice [when I was off the pitch]. I’ve had many good coaches in my career, but Emma’s not afraid to show her emotions; she’s not shy to say what her emotions are. She always wants to reach new limits.”
She said that being awarded the title last year in the Covid-shortened season didn’t feel like it was ‘proper’, so the team has an added incentive to win the league, without any dispute, this time.
Eriksson was taken off by Hayes in the 75th minute of the midweek fixture against Spurs, at exactly the point in the game that she picked up the lower-leg injury that sidelined her for a fortnight. Was that purely a precaution?
“I feel great physically. I feel in a really good place; healthy and fresh. Emma made the decision to take me off as a precaution, and I think she made the right decision. It’s good now not to take any risks.”