Emma Hayes: ‘My focus is on us, not on Man City’

As Chelsea prepare to travel up north on Thursday to face Manchester City in the Conti Cup Semi-Final, Emma Hayes addressed the media to preview the game and discuss exciting returns to the squad.

The Blues’ manager was always going to be asked about Sam Kerr with the news this week that the Australian striker would stand trial over alleged racial harassment of a police officer. Hayes kept her answer short and brief saying: “Sam has our full support, she knows that.

“It’s a difficult time for her. Of course, I can’t comment, you know that. I can say that I know she’s pleaded not guilty and I don’t want to do anything to jeopardise anything for Sam by speaking about it.

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“For that reason, I’m sure you can appreciate that’s all I’m going to say on the matter, but she has our full support – she knows that – it’s really important I get that across. It’s something I really, really value.

“There’s difficult moments, tough times and that’s what my role is at this football club – to make sure I look after our people – and I want to make it clear that Sam will be supported by me and everybody else.”

Attention was then turned to the semi-final with journalists asking the 47-year-old if this was an opportunity to get revenge on City. Chelsea were defeated at Stamford Bridge by Gareth Taylor’s side in mid-February in what was a crucial game at the top of the WSL table.

Hayes responded: “This is not Star Wars. This is no Death Star destroying moment. Revenge for me is something I don’t really think about when it comes to football. What I know is they’re a top team, they took points off of us at home, there was not a lot between the two sides.

“I love being in these games and I know the team love being in these situations, so I look forward to it.”

During her tenure at the West London club, Hayes has won six WSL titles and faced many challenges that have moulded the way in which she approaches games today. She admitted that the Joie Stadium is a tough place to go and play, but went on to say: “What motivation do you want? Win the game, go to a cup final. I don’t care where the game’s being played.

“We’re playing a top side, but we too are a top team. We too have top qualities, and it’s important for us to demonstrate those in the way that we know best. My focus is on us, not on Man City.”

The games are coming thick and fast as we near the business end of the 23/24 football season with Chelsea set to face Everton on Sunday in the quarter-finals of the FA Women’s Cup before returning to league action the following week as they host Arsenal. Attention will then be turning to an important couple of fixtures in the UEFA Women’s Champions League – the Blues will travel to Ajax in the first leg of the quarter-final on March 19th, hosting the second leg on March 27th.

Hayes said: “There’s just not enough turn around time for you to think beyond it [the Women’s League Cup semi-final]. We’ve got a long trip to Manchester and then we have to go back up north at the weekend. We have to focus on the players that we’ve got available that can compete tomorrow and then obviously players from the bench. We know what we have to execute to be at a better level, particularly going forward. Like I said, I think the dressing room is in a good place. It was a good performance at the weekend and we’ll take that into tomorrow night.”

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The soon-to-be USWNT manager was then asked about her plans to preserve her squad during this busy period with Hayes responding to the suggestion of saving players tactically by saying: “I don’t know what that means. I don’t think like that. I think one game at a time.

“You get energy from winning. Legs might be a little bit tired, but you get energy and motivated by winning. If you can’t be motivated to play in this team, to compete for trophies, then I don’t know what’s going to motivate you. We like this end of the season. We like being in the thick of games. I promise you I’ve got a dressing room of players that are hungry to keep winning for Chelsea.”

Despite this being her last season in charge of the Blues, she confirmed that her focus is on continuing to help the development of the club and the players and whilst trophies would be nice, her priority is to shape the future of the club she is departing.

“I don’t sit here and say, I need to have these things when I leave. I want to just keep improving and keep building the team. Ideally, we win as many trophies as we can, but most importantly, I’m not someone who’s solely focused on that. I want to keep developing the club and the players within it.

“At the end of the season, of course, I’d love to look back and have as many trophies, but I’d take even more satisfaction knowing we’ve got even more players for Chelsea’s future.”

Talking of Chelsea’s future, Hayes praised Aggie Beever-Jones following her recent call-up to the England Women’s senior team.

“She is someone who is Chelsea crazy and a real developer, a young talent who’s always taking on everything we ever ask of her, and I think she takes it all in her stride and again, came on at the weekend – I think she’s been so impressive from the bench for us.

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“She’s so front-footed, she’s such a goal threat. As I said, I’m sure she will have a big future at Chelsea. She just needs to keep working all the things the coaches are asking and I don’t see a change – I just see someone who’s getting hungrier every day.”

She then offered a positive update on the Brazilian forward Cat Macario who had been sidelined for 641 days prior to her appearance in the Blues’ clash with Leicester at the weekend.

She said: “I think you saw the reaction of everyone connected to the team: players, staff – everybody was absolutely delighted for her. She’s a super character, she really is, and ever since she came into this club, I think the dressing room really took her in as one of their own.

“Even today, she bought a cake for everyone to celebrate everybody putting up with her. It was just a large cake with a big picture of herself on it, I might add, that we had to cut through. It just said ‘thank you for putting up with me during this.’

“It’s been a long battle and her teammates have been tremendous in helping her through that. But the staff… people don’t see what the medical team do and the performance team do, so that’s why for me, it’s important to mention it.

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“And as her manager, she’s someone I brought to this club, I really, really wanted to bring to this club, and I knew we were taking someone who wasn’t 100% fit. Maybe I didn’t think it would take this long, but she’s had setbacks and I’m just delighted for her because she can finally progress her career with Chelsea – she’s a super, super person.”

Hayes asserted that Cat Macario would be in the squad to face City, alongside Lauren James, but Nat Bjorn would miss out through suspension.

Kick-off at the Joie Stadium for the semi-final of the Women’s League Cup at 7:15pm with the winner to face either Arsenal or Aston Villa in the final on May 31st.