Hayes on frustrated subs, ‘super’ Franny Kirby and an inspirational three Michelin-star chef
By Paul Lagan
Chelsea will know their opponents in the last 16 of the Champions League when the draw is made on Tuesday and their next match will be one of those knockout ties.
As the players head into the international break, they know they will be facing the first leg match against their European opposition on either March 3 or 4.
Their next WSL game is scheduled for March 7 away to West Ham.
That means any frustrated players not in the recent starting 11 will be hoping they get the shout from manager Emma Hayes to strap their bootlaces on tight and get on the pitch.
Keeping ultra competitive athletes happy when they are unable to perform is something that pragmatic Hayes accepts is impossible to achieve, and it’s the players who just have to accept it.
The Blues’ 5-0 drubbing of lowly Bristol City on Sunday opens up a five point gap between them and Manchester City in second-place who have a game in hand.
In the stand on Sunday were established internationals Guro Reiten and Erin Cuthbert among others.
All will be hoping to kickstart their season after the break that still sees the Blues competing on all fronts.
Hayes said that she knows that she can only keep 11 players happy at a time.
"I don’t (have to keep the non-starting players happy),” she said. “They are miserable not playing, but recognising that I have a job to do.
“Players (not selected) will always echo their frustrations,” said Hayes.
“Every week I have several knocks on the door. but this isn’t new for me. They say, ‘why am I not playing, what have I got to do to be in the team?’
“This is my job, accepting that I can only keep 11 happy.”
Hayes however is confident that this group of players understand that they will still play a vital part on the pitch in what could be an exceptional season.
“I don’t know if they are frustrated as I haven’t asked them,” admitted Hayes.
“I know that they want to play. But they are committed to knowing what we are doing. They know that we could have 20 plus games after the international break. That’s plenty of playing time. That’s what being in a team that is competing on all fronts is about.
“I know what they will be like, they will come back into training and train hard and give everything for the team because they are committed.”
One player right at the top of her game is Fran Kirby, arguably playing better than two season ago, when she tore the league apart with scintillating displays and stunning goals.
With the addition of star strikers Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder to compete with, Kirby has raised her game and shown the rest of the squad what it takes to be a regular in the star-studded side.
Hayes said of Kirby who notched a brace at Twerton Park: “Fran is disappointed she came off the pitch, she was on a hat-trick. She won’t be happy.
“Fran is doing everything that’s asked of her and then above and beyond.”
Kirby’s first goal was a training ground practiced glancing header at the near post from a corner, the second a deft shot into the top of the net.
“Fran is happy to score those type of headed goals,” said Hayes. “She’s scored more with her head than one might think.
“It’s all about timing, when she runs and connects with the ball.
“She is so clever. She could play five positions and that’s a special gift not many can do. She says to me, ‘I’ll do whatever you want me to do.’
“Fran wants to be remembered as someone who would do absolutely anything for the team. And she drives the standards for the team.
“When you have the best players whose behaviours reflect that, then you are in a good place. It’s up to the others to mirror that.”
Beth England is close to challenging the aforementioned strikers as she inches closer to full match fitness.
England was a starter against Bristol and her non-stop running was rewarded with a goal when her strength saw her bundle the ball home from close range.
Hayes said: “Beth is back to her best levels. It’s taken a while, but it’s what I expect from her.
“She’s taken on board all our feedback, the things she has to do to get to the next step. I’m proud of her. This is the Beth England we know.”
Hayes is a manager that looks outside the game for inspirational characters that her players can identify with. It enables her to present concepts to the players to make them understand that it’s okay to make errors on the pitch, that is unavoidable, but to recognise that you have to not repeat them.
She said: “We have put together a team of players we know will work. But we have to be patient, and it has to be put around a structure to make it work.
“I shared a video with the players about female chefs and the heat that takes place in the kitchen.
“A three-times Michelin star winner Clare Smyth talks about the unrivalled service you need working in a kitchen and the demands in it.
“But the most important thing I asked them to reflect on is not the amount of mistakes you make in a kitchen, it’s about how you handle those mistakes, and that’s what I have in the dressing room. A group of players who handle setbacks. That’s all I’ve ever cultivated. There’s no secret to it. It’s an environment where consistency matters. “If you behave everyday the same way, then the chances of producing performances is high. That’s what I’ve probably learnt the most in my career.”
With a Conti Cup final to play, knockout matches in the FA Cup and Champions League to overcome, coupled with a classic end of season encounter with Manchester City to look forward to, those non-playing players need only to heed Hayes overtures to know that come the season’s end they could be dripping in more football medals than Ms Smyth’s Michelin stars.