EletiofeEmma Hayes counts third WSL title among her toughest...

Emma Hayes counts third WSL title among her toughest as Chelsea manager

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Emma Hayes, the Chelsea manager, regards her seventh trophy in eight years at the club as one of the most satisfying, despite the early curtailment of the season and the decision to award the title on a points-per-game formula.

Manchester City were on top of the Women’s Super League by a point when games were suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, but had played a game more than second‑placed Chelsea. Once it was agreed points per game was the fairest way to tidy up, Hayes and her players came out fractionally on top to secure a third title. Liverpool were relegated and Aston Villa promoted.

“The decision to terminate wasn’t easy, but most of us feel it was the right one,” Hayes said. “I know football has restarted in Germany, but we are at a different stage of the pandemic. The decision was not taken flippantly, every effort was made to resume the season, but most of the players had reached a point where they needed a decision to be made.

“We can all look forward to next season now, which may still involve stepping into the unknown, but by September we should have a lot more information about best practice from Premier League clubs who have been playing.”

Hayes said she enjoyed a low-key celebration at home with her family after Chelsea were awarded the title – “I think I was in bed by 9.30” – but felt that even in compromised circumstances the club’s latest title was among the hardest to win.

“It was a brilliant season, not just for us but for the league as a whole,” she said. “There were a lot of very closely contested games because there are so many good teams about now. This has definitely been one of the toughest titles to win in my time here, the overall standard has improved so much.”

Manchester City finished second with Arsenal third and Hayes said she had the utmost respect for both clubs as well as empathy for their situations. “Finishing the season in this way is obviously not ideal for anyone, but it was a collective decision based on players’ welfare and I think most people agree with it,” she said.

“Arsenal were undoubtedly the best team in the country 12 months ago when they were champions, and Manchester City are always competitive, but that just shows how far we have come over the past year. The team has really kicked on this season, the desire within the squad is unbelievable.

“It seems a little strange not to have any sort of presentation or celebration at the end of a successful season. I’m sure we’ll do something when we all get back together, but knowing my players as I do, they will probably insist it should be business as usual. They don’t want to spend time celebrating, they want to keep progressing.”

Hayes is not worried about the financial impact of ending early, despite the FA’s refusal to make any extra cash available to the women’s game as has happened in other countries. “The FA has already ringfenced funds for next season and I’m confident the support will be there if we need it,” she said.

“The decision to terminate was not just a financial one and I’m sure our game can come back bigger and stronger than this. I am more than conscious of the challenges the women’s game still faces, but enough owners, broadcasters and fans want the best for it, to make sure it continues to grow.”

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