Emma Hayes MBE has headed Chelsea since 2012, having previously played for American club Chicago Red Stars. She was previously an assistant coach at Arsenal. With Chelsea, Hayes has won three Women’s Super League titles, including her first in 2015, as well as two FA Cups and the Spring Series. She is widely regarded as one of the best managers in the country.
Are we ready for the next stage of the Champions League? That’s the big question.
After last week’s 2-1 win over Wolfsburg in the first quarter-final, I thought we had a lot of work to do in Europe!
We’ve certainly come from behind, but there’s still a level we need to show to win the Champions League, I think. Of course my ambition is to win, but it’s not that simple.
We are really behind the English clubs. Five, six or even seven transfer rounds will not necessarily solve this problem.
Wednesday we face two-time champions Wolfsburg in the second round, and their experience in this tournament is an advantage every year.
If English clubs are investing more now, the reality is that all those other European clubs are too. It’s not like they’re standing still.
To me, closing that gap is something that is so easily underestimated because people see the names on the team’s roster and think they have those players so they are the favorites to win.
They don’t realize that building teams that can compete with Europe takes a lot of time and setbacks.
English clubs were not really respected by our European counterparts because we were not necessarily competitive in the later rounds, and rightly so.
But the reality is that the gap is narrowing, and our performance last night showed that.
Why European teams are ruthlessly professional
Chelsea striker Pernille Harder signed for Wolfsburg this summer after leading the club to the 2020 Champions League final.
In Europe, you need luck, no doubt. I remember when we won with Arsenal in 2007, the only time an English club became champions.
We beat Umea of Sweden 1-0 in the final, but from the number of goals on the post and the crossbar in the second leg, it seems they were lucky.
We also need a fair number of game winners, which was the case last week. They make the difference at the highest level, at the highest level.
I think there are players who behave differently in the Champions League. They love the big stage.
But I also think it’s a stage for those who can handle the pressure and love it. Watching Niamh Charles last night, I already knew she was going to be a great player for England.
Our new acquisitions Sam Kerr, Pernille Harder, Melanie Leipolz and Jesse Flemming are certainly players with pedigree.
That pedigree is their daily drive to win, their daily attitude, how they train, feed, interact, contribute – all those things.
They have a thirst to learn and the ability to accept feedback for continuous improvement. They are also able to keep their ego in check when needed, but raise the bar.
What is underestimated in the best European teams is their dedication and professionalism within the team.
The team is used to some of them not playing many minutes, but they have to stick to certain things – the way they train, the way they eat, the way they behave.
I remember the comment about the Lyons’ locker room and how they were only there to win and that was it. It’s not always pleasant.
Of course you have to have the mentality in the locker room to get there, but you have to make sure that everyone around you really gets what they need to get to the top.
I think we’re still learning. We haven’t been professionals that long. That’s what counts.
We must be willing to suffer.
If you zoom out and think about it, Chelsea had never won against Wolfsburg and weren’t far off until last week.
There’s a reason for that. A few signatures are not enough to close the gap. It helps to have a team that has worked together for a long time, and the training is built up over time.
I know my own expectations, but not everyone else’s. I’m a realist, and we need to roll up our sleeves.
Wolfsburg is ruthless. You’re prepared for your home games, but when you go to a European game – whether it’s Barcelona or Wolfsburg – it’s very different.
You have to accept that some things are not feasible. Your play style should be adaptable; it should evolve and have different mechanics for different situations.
This is what I consider coaching. For example, every team wants to own football, but what is your goal? What does the opponent do to make it harder?
If you play in Europe, you’re not going to dominate the ball against Barcelona. It’s not going to happen.
We can’t take just one person if we want the end result. Last week was a good wake-up call for our own players: we have to be ready to suffer if we want to reach the semi-finals.
Emma Hayes spoke to Emma Sanders of Sports. You can read his column each month on the Sports and App website.