Managing the United States national team is widely regarded as the biggest job in women’s football – so is Emma Hayes ready for the challenge ahead?
Hayes, 47, has led Chelsea to 13 major trophies in her 11 years managing the Women’s Super League side but says the “time is right” to move on.
Her widely anticipated move to the USA was confirmed on Tuesday and she will join up with the four-time world champions at the end of the season, just in time for the 2024 Olympic Games.
With a new squad to manage, a major tournament on the horizon and huge levels of expectation to fulfil, it is not an easy task for Hayes – but it is one she is more than prepared for.
What were the factors in Hayes’ decision?
“This is my club and it will always be my club,” Hayes said on Friday, as she addressed the media for the first time since announcing her departure from Chelsea.
It was a moment she “hoped would never come” but personal circumstances ultimately led to Hayes’ decision to call time on a successful WSL career.
As a mum to five-year-old son Harry, Hayes craves family time – particularly following the passing of her father in October – and that was the deciding factor, with international management providing more flexibility than the daily demands of club football.
“This is not a selfish decision, it’s a selfless decision. It’s about putting first other things in my life and I’m ready for that,” said Hayes.
She also wanted to “leave at the top” and having wrapped up a fourth successive WSL title last season, Hayes has certainly done that.
The USA job is one many coaches dream of taking on – they have a rich history of success, have global superstars representing the badge and countless resources at their disposal.
Hayes spoke previously about her desire to lead a country on the biggest stage and at major tournaments.
She has a history working in the US as head coach at Chicago Red Stars and once admitted that although she was born in England, she was “definitely made in America”.
“As a little girl I always thought maybe one day [managing a national team] would come,” Hayes said last week. “For most of us, we don’t necessarily fulfil every dream we have.”
Another significant factor is that Hayes is highly valued by US Soccer. The federation will make her the highest-paid female manager in the world and she is expected to be paid an equal wage to USA men’s boss Gregg Berhalter.
Former England striker Ellen White said: “What she’s done for the game has been phenomenal. What she’s done for Chelsea, what she’s done for women in sport, for mothers in sport as well, advocating for players, it’s been incredible.
“Being on the opposition, we always had so much respect for what she’s done, and players just spoke so highly of her. It’s going to be a real shame for the WSL, but you want to wish her well and hope that she has an amazing next job.
“It’s definitely going to be hard to replace her. But we’re obviously thankful that she achieved what she did over here. Maybe not against some of the teams that I was playing for, but it’s phenomenal what she’s done for the game.”
Jill Scott, another former Lioness, said: “She’s completed WSL, hasn’t she? Whoever comes into Chelsea now, it’s going to be difficult. It’s kind of like Alex Ferguson when he left Manchester United.”
What challenges will she meet?
With every managerial role in football comes pressure. But nothing can compare to the expectation placed on the shoulders of the person leading the USA.
They are the most decorated nation in women’s football history having won the Women’s World Cup on four occasions, including back-to-back crowns in 2015 and 2019.
They are also four-time Olympic gold medallists and since Fifa rankings were established in 2003, the USA have been ranked number one for a total of 13 years.
But this is a USA team in transition.
It is only three months since their shock last-16 exit from the Women’s World Cup – their worst ever finish at the tournament, which led to them falling as low as third in the world rankings for the first time.
Superstars who were part of the USA’s historic success have called time on their careers, including instrumental midfielder Julie Ertz and iconic goalscorer Megan Rapinoe.
There is a new crop of talent coming through which Hayes will need to hone. It is an exciting project with the likes of Sophia Smith, 23, Trinity Rodman, 21 and Naomi Girma, 23, all at her disposal – but a daunting task nonetheless.
USA fans will settle for nothing less than gold at the Olympics in Paris and Hayes will not have much time to prepare her side for a global tournament.
Is Hayes the right fit for the US?
Despite the challenges, one thing Hayes thrives on is pressure.
Having led Chelsea to the top in the WSL, she had to fend off improving rivals to stay there each season.
She has managed to do this successfully for four seasons in a row, as well as winning five Women’s FA Cups, two Women’s League Cups and taking Chelsea to the Women’s Champions League final for the first time in 2021.
She did this while continuing to challenge federations on things such as equal prize money and competition scheduling.
“I know my personality and I’m not afraid to do the tough things even though sometimes I’m the one who takes the battering from it,” said Hayes.
US Soccer said: “Her experience in the USA, her understanding of our soccer landscape and her appreciation of what it means to coach this team makes her a natural fit for this role.
“Candidates underwent an intense and thorough interview process which included psychometrics and abstract reasoning tests, in-depth discussions of strategy, coaching philosophy and the current player pool, as well as evaluation on the reactions to pressure, culture-building and interactions with players and staff. ”
Hayes has also seen big players leave during her time at Chelsea but has managed to recruit suitable replacements in the transfer window – demonstrating her ability to continually rebuild.
The additions of Serb Jelena Cankovic and five-time Champions League winner Kadeisha Buchanan softened the departure of playmaker Ji So-yun in 2022, while Canadian Ashley Lawrence, and USA internationals Mia Fishel and Catarina Macario made up for this summer’s exits by captain Magdalena Eriksson and striker Pernille Harder – who Chelsea once paid a world record fee for.
Another strength of Hayes is her ability to find innovative ways to stay at the top.
She has sought advice from US basketball coaches, written a book on leadership, has recruited sleep experts, and frequently invited scientists and doctors into Chelsea to share their knowledge on menstrual cycles and training loads.
Scott said: “Every single player that I talk to who has played under Emma just says that her emotional intelligence and how she gets the best out of the players is on another level.”
Anita Asante, who played under Hayes at Chelsea, said: “Throughout my career, whether she’s been my coach or not, she’s always been there for me. She’s that one stable force I knew I could rely on in my time of need or when I was having a low in my football career.
“I never doubted for one second that I could pick up the phone and she would be there to support me through it.
“She would give me advice or help me figure out the next direction I needed to go. I think that speaks to how she treats every player as a person first. I think that’s super important and that’s why our relationship as friends has existed all this time.”
All of these skills make Hayes a perfect candidate but what the USA craves most is a manager who knows how to win – and Hayes has done that in abundance.
Sophie Anderson, a UK-based writer, is your guide to the latest trends, viral sensations, and internet phenomena. With a finger on the pulse of digital culture, she explores what’s trending across social media and pop culture, keeping readers in the know about the latest online sensations.