Even though she had to watch her team dig very deep to win the Women’s FA Cup again at Wembley, with Manchester City twice cancelling out Chelsea leads and taking the game into extra-time before Sam Kerr struck the winner, Emma Hayes was confident throughout that she would end up the winning manager.
The way the game plan worked, the way the players stuck to it and the leadership they showed on the pitch were some of the reasons why, as well as the quality on display. Kerr scored twice, either side of a wonder strike by Erin Cuthbert in the 3-2 win.Hayes emphasised time and again how happy she is with this win that completes back-to-back Doubles.‘To find the winning goal was so gutsy,’ she praised. ‘I loved the game plan. It was really aggressive but you had to grind and you had to work. We stopped Man City’s momentum in the way that we pressed but it meant we had to suffer, and we were full of cramping and groin strains and everything else, but to dig it out doesn't surprise me.
‘Honestly, those women they will go down in history. I will look back in 10 years’ time and I'll be thinking that group is immense. It's the best team I've ever coached. I totally understand that we always want to talk about perfection in football but having been on the winning side more often than not, let me tell you it's about human endeavour. And we have a group of people who do exactly what we said. They are not going to be on the losing team, they'll find a way.’The Chelsea boss revealed she briefly took herself away from the team huddle at the end of the 90 minutes and was impressed with what she saw, with the players taking it upon themselves to talk and organise – the type of leadership culture she has worked hard to install.
‘Be clear about this. I think Man City are a top team,’ Hayes added, ‘but I think they underestimated us today. And I think our team from the loss in the Continental Cup final felt we had a point to prove, and we did really well with that.‘The team were calmer this week than they were a week ago [when the league title was won]. Everybody felt like we were probably more nervous last week and this week we kept the ball better as a result of it.‘I always felt give Sam [Kerr] one chance, just one chance.‘There was a moment in the game I thought she was knackered but she just digs and digs and digs. We've got an amazing centre-forward.’
Hayes went on to talk about her other cup-final goalscorer Cuthbert and said she wished the club could develop 20 players like the 23-year-old. She said the growth of Chelsea Women, as demonstrated by the support inside Wembley, is a legacy the departing Ji So-Yun, Drew Spence and Jonna Andersson can be proud of. She also paid tribute to directors Bruce Buck and Marina Granovskaia.‘It is a huge win for Marina and Bruce. I want to put that on record for the work they've done for not just me but for the team over a period of time. They have epitomised everything that Chelsea's about.‘That was so amazing for the women's game today. I love playing Man City and Man City love playing us for the same reason, it is football of the highest level. Tactically both teams have their strengths. I thought we did enough because we stopped them in their game. I thought we were really bold and for that reason, that's why were on the winning team.’
The win takes Hayes’s trophy haul with Chelsea up to 13. She explained her continuing motivation.‘I can’t bear losing. I can't bear the thought of it, and then when I think about it, it fuels me. The minute I feel any of them [other teams] coming close, I just want to get better. I don't do well in comfort.’