Inside Chelsea’s quest to make Champions League history under "pioneer" Hayes

Chelsea’s men’s team have become synonymous with chopping and changing managers in pursuit of Champions League glory.

Thomas Tuchel leads his side into the semi-finals of European competition having controversially replaced Frank Lampard to become the 15th permanent manager of the Roman Abramovich era.

Ironically, when Champions League glory did finally arrive in Munich in 2012, it was caretaker boss Roberto Di Matteo at the helm.

But the story could hardly be more different across Cobham with Chelsea Women, who are chasing their own moment of European triumph to cap off a remarkable journey.

It is a journey which has not always been smooth, and one which has been possible due to “pioneer” manager Emma Hayes.

Hayes took over in 2012, just two years after John Terry and other Chelsea stars had stepped in to help save the team after budget cuts.

Less than a decade later, Hayes takes the Blues into the Champions League semi-finals against Bayern Munich this weekend, looking to break new ground after already winning three Women’s Super League titles.

“When you look at the infrastructure, when she first went in the budget was about £50,000 to deal with everything,” explains Karen Carney, who played for Chelsea from 2015 to 2019.

“Now she deals with Bruce Buck, Marina (Granovskaia), she’s signing players like Pernille Harder for £300,000.

“That’s because she goes in and demands, she has standards, has a vision and she has the energy and mentality to see it through.

“She’s exceptional and she is a pioneer in the women’s game.”

Hayes’ first task has already been achieved – taking Chelsea to the very top of the domestic women’s game.

That was achieved when they won their first Women’s Super League title in 2015 and has been consolidated by two more titles since.

Translating that success to European competition, however, has been more difficult.

They were thrashed by Wolfsburg three years in succession, including a crushing 5-1 aggregate defeat in the semi-finals back in 2017/18.

The following year, however, they took the fight to seven-time winners Lyon.

Carney was part of the side which suffered a 3-2 loss over two legs and reckons that moment of heartache was a turning point as Chelsea left buoyed by the progress they had made.

“I think that’s the shift. I believe that was the catalyst,” Carney says.

“When we played Lyon, I think it was a realisation that, ‘actually, we’re not that far off’. Although we got knocked out, there was a real shift.

“We realised, ‘actually, if we get a couple of the right recruits in, we’re not far off. We’ve got a good squad here, we just need one or two’.

“I think that was a big turning point. Whereas before everyone was so far ahead of Chelsea, after that we realised they weren’t.

“It was a realisation to a lot of other people as well that Chelsea are a force to be reckoned with. Since then they went and got Kerr, went and got Harder, got Leupolz.

“They went and got people who have got that bit between their teeth, they can win them the Champions League, and it’s credit to Emma Hayes and also the club for backing her.”

The club certainly backed Hayes, paying a world-record fee in the women’s game to land Harder from old rivals Wolfsburg last summer.

But it appears the backing has paid off.

The Blues reversed the 5-1 scoreline against Wolfsburg in the quarter-finals this season to cruise into the last four.

Hayes described it as her “favourite win in charge”.

"I've faced that opponent so many times and have felt humiliated and lost," Hayes said. "I always thought they were the benchmark for women's football alongside (Champions League holders) Lyon.

"It's a really, really proud day for English football."

With Lyon knocked out by Paris Saint-Germain on the other side of the draw, there is plenty of excitement about what might be possible in the coming weeks.

First up, they must get past Bayern Munich over two legs, the first of which takes place this evening (Sunday, 4pm).

Carney believes they have what it takes – having taken on the tag of “mentality monsters” made famous by Jurgen Klopp’s description of his title-bound Liverpool side last season.

“I’d like to think Chelsea have got enough in their armoury to win (against Bayern),” Carney says. “I described them the other day as mentality monsters.

“I think they’re just finding a way. Emma Hayes is getting it done. She’s been decisive and I think that’s a reflection of her team.

“They haven’t played to their full potential or played their best yet, but they’ve found a way to keep winning.”

If Chelsea can go all the way, it would mark a groundbreaking moment for women’s football in England as the Women’s Super League continues to grow.

“It’d be amazing, it really would,” Carney says.

“I think it’d be great for the women’s game, especially with the timing of the new TV deal that’s just been done. I think Chelsea would make a massive fuss about it as well, and rightly so.

“It would just be a really big moment for women’s football, and I think a lot of people will be rooting for them, whether you’re a Chelsea fan or not.

“It’s great for the growth of the women’s game, it’s great for the league and it’s great exposure.

“If Chelsea went and won it then the likes of Man City start saying, ‘well actually, we’re not far off’.

“Arsenal, getting a new manager, are thinking, what if we reinvest? What could we achieve? The same for Manchester United as well, who aren’t far away.

“You’ve got teams coming up with aspirations. It just shows the growth of the game and where you can go if you get it right. It’s going to be brilliant to see the next few years where the game goes.”

BT Sport has live coverage of the UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-finals, including Bayern Munich Women v Chelsea Women from 3.30pm on Sunday 25 th April on BT Sport 2.

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