Mystic moment that led to another change of Chelsea manager

Boss of the women's team was told she would be successful at the club – eight years before she joined

Click to follow
The Independent Football

If all you knew about Emma Hayes was that she went to a clairvoyant card reader for careers advice you might think that even in an industry suffused with superstition she was a bit flaky. You would be wrong. And not only because it was not Hayes's idea and she did not follow the advice.

When she was sacked as manager of Chicago Red Stars 15 months later Hayes began to think perhaps she should have done, but it was only when she received an unexpected phone call last summer that she began to wonder if maybe there was something in the cards.

It was Chelsea calling, with a job offer: manager, Chelsea Ladies. At which point Hayes remembered that back in 2008 the card reader had said to her: "You are going to do lots of profound things at Chelsea football club." Hayes had not even mentioned the club.

Hayes took the job – because she wanted to, not because of the card reader. Which is why, as the light faded on Thursday night, she was at Chelsea's Cobham training ground overseeing preparations for today's match against Doncaster Rovers Belles, their first in the FA Women's Super League since it broke for Euro 2013.

Chelsea train in the evening because many of the players have real jobs. Hayes also has another job. While her counterpart at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho, has advertised credit cards and investment funds, Hayes runs her own financial services company. During a sabbatical from coaching she transformed her father's small West End foreign exchange bureau into an online business, Covent Garden FX, using the software skills she had picked up building scouting systems while coaching in the US.

Neither of Hayes's jobs are the most obvious career for someone who took a degree in European studies, Spanish and sociology at Liverpool University, followed by a Masters in intelligence and international affairs at Salford, but she is not one to take the standard route. Most notably she rejected the chance to follow Vic Akers as manager of all-conquering Arsenal Ladies, where she had been assistant manager, as "we had won everything and I didn't feel challenged".

She does now. Hayes, 36, has two main similarities with Mourinho. Both began coaching very early, after the briefest of playing careers, and both have to deliver results.

The support from Chelsea for the ladies side goes to the very top, to Bruce Buck, Roman Abramovich's right-hand man at the club. The women share medical staff and have purpose-built facilities. But that interest also brings examination. "He wanted to know how we were going to get on to the top of the podium. We laid forward a vision and are seven months into it.

"Players around the world are looking at us as a football club as we do have a big name and we have got to produce. We will work until we do. I say to the guys here, 'We work for Chelsea, these are the standards'. That applies to me too. The club want to win things and I look forward to winning things. If I don't achieve them, I'll step out."

Hayes sat down with Rafa Benitez last year to discuss the challenges of managing a club with high expectations and hopes and expects to spend time with Mourinho when the men finish globetrotting.

Her own approach owes much to her travels in the States where the women's game is far more mature. "We are miles behind here, especially in development of young players." This is one reason for the new recruitment of Yuki Ogimi, the Japan World Cup winner and silver Olympic medallist. The hope is she will set standards Hayes's young players can aspire to.

Hayes began coaching her university side at 18 after being troubled by an ankle injury and took to it immediately. After college, trapped in an unsatisfying job, she crossed the Atlantic "with £1,000 and a backpack". There she found a culture that embraced women's football and flourished in it, rising from coaching boys' under-12s to female superstars such as Abby Wambach and Marta. At Chicago she encountered demanding rich owners. "That was probably my best learning curve as a coach, to go to an environment where results matter."

Perfect preparation for Chelsea? "I don't mind the pressure, I like it, most managers do. I want us to be scrutinised. The game has to push on in this country, we are in danger of falling behind." Referring to England's dismal Euro 2013 Hayes added: "A men's team manager would not have survived those results. In the US, if you do not win gold you are out. England should have those standards."

Chelsea do. This is accepted as a year of consolidation, but next season will not be. Without recourse to a clairvoyant Hayes asserts: "We'll challenge next year, I've no doubt about that."

Chelsea v Doncaster Rovers Belles Staines FC, 2pm. Tickets £3-£5

The Chelsea girl...

Born Camden, London, 18 October 1976

Played for Arsenal (U-10, U-18), Millwall

Coached Long Island Lady Riders (head coach), Iona College (head coach), Arsenal Ladies (assistant coach and academy director), Chicago Red Stars (manager), Chelsea (manager)

Day job Director, Covent Garden FX