Chelsea FC vs Barcelona: Emma Hayes wants ‘memories, not medals’ with Women’s Champions League glory in sight

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

It was a typically forthright response from Emma Hayes, interpreted as an insult.

With respect to AFC Wimbledon, if there was any slight, it was in the direction of the Chelsea manager, who on Sunday faces Barcelona in the Women’s Champions League Final.

Having already won the Women’s Super League title last weekend to add to the League Cup, with the FA Cup still on the table... why on earth would Hayes swap a quadruple for League One?

So, when she was linked with a move to the men’s game earlier this season, she gave it short shrift. Wimbledon could “absolutely not” afford her, she said.

“I merely said it is not a step down coaching women, and that is what I intended,” she says, speaking ahead of Sunday’s showdown in Gothenburg. “Of course, the headline then referred to me insulting someone, which I never did.

“I’ve said it before, I coach an illustrious group of women who are all at the top of their profession and they deserve the time and attention as much as any team at the top. I think it is important as their manager that I speak on their behalf to reflect that.”

The FA via Getty Images
The FA via Getty Images

Having guided Chelsea to nine major trophies since her appointment in 2012, Hayes has a relentless drive to “blow up” the women’s game. The next step towards that is the Champions League, which she won in its former guise — the UEFA Cup — as assistant to Vic Akers, when Arsenal completed the quadruple in 2007.

Should Chelsea triumph, the medal is likely to be given another makeshift home around her house.

“I’m sure it will end up where the rest of them are,” says Hayes. “But it isn’t the trophy that matters, the medal that matters, it’s the memories, the moments. You’ve got to think big in life.

“I’ve been to a card reader once in my life and she told me I would do amazing things at Chelsea and I would inspire generations of little girls. So, I’m just fulfilling what I should be doing. The rest of it is the sheer hard work of lots of people — players and staff.”

On her legacy, she adds: “Winning is always at the top, I know it probably shouldn’t be, but being a winner is what drives me. I’ve always wanted to blow the sport up, so I’m proud to say I think I’ve played my part in doing that, but that was always intentional. Everything I always do is intentional.”

Hayes is still striving to see the sport grow, and Chelsea’s success is playing a major part in inspiring a new generation of fans and players, with teams from England a growing force.

She says: “I heard in different conversations across Europe about the investment being put in in England. They knew we were going to be a threat five years ago. They knew this was coming, it was just a matter of when. I think that will continue to be the way, it is going to get even more competitive.”

Much has changed from when Arsenal were crowned Europe’s finest.

“Arsenal’s achievement was unreal,” says Hayes. “To think Arsenal won that against a full-time team. Arsenal at the time were training three or four times a week. That’s why that story is so successful, but domestically it was easier then. That’s the difference.”

Chelsea versus Barcelona has the sound of a grand occasion: the Spanish champions against England’s title-winners — and Hayes is backing her side to rise to the occasion again.

“I welcome the pressure that, for once, we are the underdog — in the bookies’ eyes, I might add,” she says. “I woke up this morning thinking about how many messages of courage I am going to give the team this week, because I really believe there’s another level in us. I am so looking forward to the weekend to watch us find that level again and challenge to be champions of Europe.

The FA via Getty Images
The FA via Getty Images

“I just know being in this position, I’m really looking forward to it. I’m not in it for the experience, I’m here to win it. The dressing room is very serious about that, too.

“My message is we’ve demonstrated we are the best team in England, now to be the best in Europe you have to show another side again. There will not be much to separate the teams. It’s a cup final. You’ve got a 50 per cent chance of winning and I will take that.”

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