When Emma Hayes arrived at Chelsea 12 years ago, she used her first interview to highlight the Women's team was underachieving and not living up to its potential. She certainly changed that as manager.

Hayes transformed Chelsea during her tenure, both on and off the pitch. Sixteen trophies were lifted along the way and she departs as one of the most influential figures in the club's history.

It wasn't easy. Nor did change happen overnight. Important steps had to be taken as Hayes slowly changed the culture of the team, not only to one that competes at the highest level but one that wins.

In the process, the perception of Chelsea Women – and women's football – was altered. The fanbase grew. It was a journey.

From battling at the bottom of the table, securing our first trophy in 2015, and finally lifting a seventh Women’s Super League title – those moments have been defined by what Hayes has built away from what people see come matchday.

And to the woman herself – who we spoke exclusively during her final week at the helm – there isn't one defining feature that describes what it means to be Chelsea. It's bigger than that.

‘It is the behaviours you demonstrate every day,’ explained Hayes. ‘It is the expectation you place on yourself and each other. It is the standards. It is the pursuit of excellence. It is the consistency of being a good teammate, especially when things aren’t going your way or you’re not in the team.

'It is being good to your community, no matter the result. It is about doing your duty. It is asking yourself every day of the week, "What I’m doing to help our team win?"

‘That is what it takes to be a top professional at the club.’  

Those are the components that make Chelsea – and those makings began far away from the high-performance environment Hayes developed and enjoyed during her final season in charge.

'In the early days, we were training until 9.30pm on the 3G pitch and were having board meetings in the curry house in Cobham with Rob (Udberg), Paul (Green) and Stuart (Searle),’ said Hayes.  

‘Those days were about forging a bond between people off the pitch so we had the solid foundations to build on when we got into the journey. 

‘Something I have definitely prided myself on is making sure that everything off the pitch kept progressing, kept growing, and we kept putting ourselves in a situation where we could provide the best environment for players.

'I think that is one of the reasons why we’ve been so successful.’  

Countless memories have been created and celebrations enjoyed thanks to the success of Hayes and her players. Yet the 47-year-old appreciates representing a club at the highest level can take its toll.

However, Hayes hopes that every player who has played for the Blues during her tenure will one day reminisce about all the good times they shared. 

‘It is not easy to wear this shirt’ admitted Hayes. ‘There is a lot of pressure that comes with it. ‘There is a lot of expectation.  The demands placed on you as a Chelsea player are not for the faint-hearted, that is for sure, but look at the rewards.  

‘I have never said it is easy. It can be relentless. It takes an awful lot and it can be quite unforgiving, but I want everybody to look back when they sit with their kids and their grandkids and say “That is what I did, this is what I achieved” and all those difficult moments will have been worth it.’ 

Hayes undoubtedly leaves the Chelsea Women's team in a better place than where she found it – and that ambition set out 12 years ago to turn the club into one that competes in the UEFA Champions League and challenges for titles has certainly been achieved.

And while she will not spearhead our next chapter, she does not want the success to let up anytime soon. 

‘I want this team to keep winning,’ she signed off. ‘This is my club and that won’t ever change.’