‘Inspiring’ Emma Hayes can outshine Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea with Champions League success for quadruple-chasing Women is nine years in the making and means ‘everything’

When Ronaldinho won the Ballon d’Or in 2005, the Brazil icon delivered quite the prophecy about an 18-year-old kid bursting onto the scene.

“This award says I’m the best player in the world, but I’m not even the best player at Barcelona,” he said. “Lionel Messi is the best player in the world.”

We’re going to go full Ronaldinho and tell you that even if Thomas Tuchel wins the Champions League, he still won’t be the most successful coach at Chelsea this season.

Emma Hayes could win it all at Chelsea this season

That would be Emma Hayes. And not just this year, almost all of them since 2012.

Too often we use the men’s game to contextualise and underwrite the women’s, which deserves its own narrative, but when both Chelsea teams make the Champions League final in the same campaign, the comparisons are inescapable.

Blues supporters will remember eight years of hurt before the men finally won Europe’s elite club competition. Well, try nine for the women.

Hayes, who was in tears after the semi-final victory over Bayern Munich last month, recently told talkSPORT: “Not many of us survive nine years at Chelsea, this was the one I wanted more than any other.

“It was the third semi-final since I’ve been here and I just kept thinking, ‘I can’t lose’. I couldn’t go through that pain of the summer, thinking about what-ifs and what you need to do to get to that point.”

Hayes’ entire career has built to this moment
There will be more tears of joy if Chelsea win on Sunday

The year of the men’s famous triumph in Munich, 2012, also marked the arrival of Hayes and the start of untold domestic dominance for Chelsea Women.

That includes four Women’s Super League titles, including the one they wrapped up last week, two FA Cups and two League Cups.

Chelsea are the new Arsenal when it comes to women’s football – and they’re doing it in an increasingly competitive and constantly improving WSL, which now also has Manchester City fighting for everything.

But the Blues haven’t been able to match the Gunners where it matters most: in Europe.

Hayes knows that, given she has a medal from Arsenal’s Champions League success in 2007, which came as part of a quadruple while the current Chelsea boss was an assistant coach.

Since then, it’s been a competition dominated by Lyon, Wolfsburg and Frankfurt. Until now.

Fran Kirby’s goal in the second leg ensured no slip-up for Chelsea, who beat Bayern 5-3 on aggregate

This Sunday, live on talkSPORT, Chelsea can confirm themselves as the best women’s team in Europe and claim that holy grail they’ve been working towards for almost a decade.

Oh, and it’s against Barcelona, the most regular and infamous opposition of the men’s various quests on the continent.

“It means everything,” former Chelsea star Eni Aluko told talkSPORT.com.

“You saw the tears from Emma Hayes at the end of the Bayern game [semi-final]. You saw the pictures of the players and the emotion.

This is how much it means
Chelsea Women want Champions League success more than anything else

“There’s a real recognition that this is ten years in the making. This journey, getting to the Champions League final with two appearances in the semi-finals.

“That’s what makes it so special. On top of that, you’ve got the guys in the final as well. Chelsea are in a really amazing place as a club.”

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was famously obsessed with European glory for the men’s team – and the Russian oligarch is just as hungry for success in the women’s game.

In a rare recent interview with Forbes, Abramovich said the women’s team is ‘a critical part of Chelsea and shapes who we are as a club’.

Maybe that’s why Chelsea are better than the rest: a trip to Cobham will show you that Abramovich really does care about the women’s team, who are given the same world-class facilities as the men, and the Blues are one of few clubs willing to splash the cash on female footballers.

Chelsea were able to set the British transfer record by signing Pernille Harder for just £250,000 last year

English talents such as Millie Bright and Fran Kirby have also been allowed to flourish thanks to Chelsea’s commitment to developing the women’s game, but the most important factor is Hayes.

What’s her secret? Geese, apparently.

“I’ve shown the players geese videos,” Hayes said before the 5-0 victory over Reading which clinched the WSL title. “I’ve shown them why geese fly in V formation, what everybody’s role is, how geese support each other and, most importantly, why you fly further together.

“That’s the bottom line. Geese wouldn’t be able to migrate to the sun without all travelling together. It’s the same for us.”

They say genius goes hand in hand with madness, mainly because only a genius would get away with saying such mad things. Like Jose Mourinho and his Waitrose eggs, or Eric Cantona’s seagulls, it’s the same for Hayes.

“Emma Hayes has always been a character,” Aluko added. “I’m not surprised that she uses geese analogies, that’s probably one of the more normal ones!

Aluko played under Hayes for six years at Chelsea
Getty Images – Getty

“In 2012, when she joined, I was at Birmingham and I thought that was a great signal for them. She was coming from America, she’d won the quadruple with Arsenal as an assistant, even back then she had pedigree.

“I was always taken by Emma’s vision. She always talked about the future, the players she would recruit. There was something believable about that.

“She’s executed, that’s the most important thing. We can all talk about what we want to do, but it’s executing it, building, having difficult conversations and moving people out the way to get it done.

“In women’s football, it’s really important, and that’s what Emma has done. She doesn’t care about pleasing lots of people on the way to success.

“I respect it and I’m inspired by it as someone in that position now.”

There will be nothing left for Chelsea and Hayes to win if they succeed on Sunday

Victory on Sunday will surely ask the question: what next for Hayes? Many, including our very own Laura Woods, have tipped her to become the first female coach in the men’s game, while the Lionesses job must beckon at some point.

But this is perhaps the only time we’ll allow one of football’s worst cliches: her focus is just on the next game.

It’s a pretty big one.

Presented by Faye Carruthers, with commentary from Sam Matterface, Fara Williams and Courtney Sweetman-Kirk, the 2021 Women’s Champions League final is live on talkSPORT from 8pm on 16 May