Emma Hayes: How the Chelsea boss turned broken dreams into coaching success

Leading women's football coach and Chelsea icon Emma Hayes sat down with the game changers podcast last August. In an eye-opening interview, the Blues boss bares all on her journey from a broken dream to becoming one of the world's most successful managers.

Should Chelsea progress into the final of this season's Champions League, Emma Hayes will become the first female manager to do so since 2009.

This is just one small window into the many strings Hayes has added to her decorated managerial bow. After starting her coaching career in the USA before her 2012 move to Chelsea, the 44-year-old has established herself as one of the biggest and most influential names in women's football.

Whilst many see the devoted Blue and her well-stacked trophy cabinet, Hayes' story is a lot more complex than just her success. Speaking on the game changers podcast, she told the story of how her dream to become a footballer took a sharp turn in the road whilst growing up.

Hayes, who grew up in Camden, was forced to adjust her vision after an MRI scan in her youth years revealed she had no cartilage around her right ankle.

"Every time I smacked my right foot to the ground I couldn’t absorb shock," she explained. "So no matter what, I’ve thought about this a lot, it doesn’t matter what my life in football would have looked like, it was so traumatic for me that I just couldn’t play the game I loved. And I didn’t know how to handle that as a teenager.

"But one thing I did do was got my head down, I had some good youth workers, good PE teachers who made me get my nut down, and got enough to get into university and I think that then set me on a different path."

From her pain, she set herself up for a new chapter in her life, but it was one that those around her had already envisioned. Hayes reflected on her former PE teacher turned mentor's words after her transition into coaching.

Emma, you were never going to make it as a footballer, but you were always going to be a leader.

A natural born leader

In what could be Chelsea's most successful ever season, Hayes has been at the hilt of their unstoppable form. The Blues kicked off the 2020/21 campaign by winning the Community Shield, followed by their recent success in the Continental Cup for the second consecutive year.

With just two games left in the Women's Super League, another league title is all but wrapped up. Chelsea's semi-final test against Bayern Munich in the Champions League also looms.

Since joining the West London outfit almost ten years ago, Hayes has spearheaded her side to three WSL titles, two FA Cups, two Conti Cups, the Community Shield and the WSL Spring Series. There's just the illustrious European glory to tick off her list. 

Although she makes it look easy with her powerful squad, smart tactics and outspoken ways, Hayes hasn't always been confident in her abilities.

“I never felt bright enough. I never felt confident. I felt that kid coming out of the council estate, like I was never good enough," she reflected on her time in university.

The Camden-born coach got her first taste of real leadership at university, where she went to major in European Studies, Spanish and Sociology. During her studies, she led the campus football team after her friends urged her to take on the role as coach.

"I was always the minibus driver. I was always the one carrying the balls and the cones. So that should have been a huge bloody indicator then, but it wasn’t, it still wasn’t enough."

Career-building setbacks

Despite being a hugely successful and admired manager, Hayes doesn't shy away from her setbacks. She told game changers the story of her failed stint at Chicago Red Stars and how it shaped her career indefinitely.

From trying to build an entirely new squad from scratch, to getting sacked in Starbucks, to the weeks of heartache afterwards – it was all a learning curve for the up and coming manager.

"[I] cried for a couple of weeks, partied for a couple of weeks, lost my confidence completely," Hayes admitted.

But her confidence soon came flooding back when she took the job at Chelsea. She described the potential she could see at the club as "ridiculous" ahead of her eventual appointment in 2012. She was never looking for a new job though – it was Chelsea who found her.

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet, it might have been deleted.

Hayes hasn't just collected trophy after trophy and signed some of the world's biggest players. She's also built a family within the club and invested time in creating superstars out of young, inexperienced players. She has managed all of this without needing to boast about a decorated playing career.

"Do you really have to have a lot of frequent air miles to be a good pilot?" Hayes compared. "Do you have to be a fantastic student to be a great teacher? Do you have to be a really good patient with multiple surgeries to be a good surgeon? And just think about that.

"Do you have to be frugal with money to be a great bank banker? Of course experiencing something will offer insight, or provide a valuable reflection for players because you have been in that arena. You can relate to them but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a great leader."

And a great leader she is. Hayes will be looking to make history with Chelsea by guiding them to their first ever Champions League title next month. But as she reflects on her own experience growing up, there's one thing that matters more to the Blues boss than creating a winning side.

"I had a dream to become Glen Hoddle but never a female equivalent. I think that in itself has been a key driver in why I’ve wanted to drive the sport, is I’ve wanted little girls to have a different dream that I did have."

This article was produced in partnership with the game changers podcast, which is supported by Barclays. You can listen to the full episode with Emma Hayes here.

Georgia Goulding

Interested in: Football, Boxing, Formula 1

Georgia has experience reporting and providing exclusives across a range of women's sports, working previously for the likes of Yahoo! Sport. She is a keen W Series and football follower and is passionate about giving athletes of all backgrounds a platform to tell their stories.