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Emma Hayes moves to the USA: Will the former Chelsea boss help USWNT rediscover their glory days?

Emma Hayes faces South Korea in two friendlies in her first games in charge of the USA; she will also be involved in her first tournament with the team at this summer's Olympics; why her tactics, player management and experience with pressure at Chelsea will help Hayes in her new role

Credit - PA/Getty

It's official – Emma Hayes is new the head coach of USA Women, taking her first training session on Tuesday. Her trophy-laden reign as Chelsea Women manager is over.

What awaits Hayes is a wounded giant. After their earliest-ever exit from a World Cup in 2023, the USA are looking to reclaim their title as the world's best as soon as possible - but they are a team in transition.

The big names like Megan Rapinoe, Sam Mewis and Julie Ertz have hung up their boots, with the young guard - Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman and Naomi Girma to name a few - taking up the reins.

In the last nine months, the USA have been under the direction of interim coach Twila Kilgore. They have played 14 games and won the Gold Cup and SheBelieves Cup. Both tournaments featured World Cup-level opponents, and included two penalty-shootout wins against Canada.

It will surely boost the team's confidence and build belief back from their fans. From stands to pitch, the USA are known for their love of winning and striving to be the best.

It is a synergy that matches with Hayes. Her Chelsea team have consistently been dubbed 'mentality monsters' for their ability to win multiple trophies season after season, winning games under the most intense of pressure.

Chelsea manager Emma Hayes celebrates with the trophy after winning the Barclays WSL
Image: Emma Hayes won her fifth successive WSL title before departing Chelsea

Let's not forget, on the final day of the 2023/24 WSL season, Chelsea were ahead of Manchester City by the slimmest of margins. Nothing but a win - and a glut of goals - would do. Within two minutes, the Blues were ahead and never looked back, claiming their fifth successive league title.

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There are clear parallels between Chelsea and the USA in that respect. In terms of scrutiny, pressure and will to win, Hayes will be stepping into a similar environment.

Her first test of that will come at the Paris Olympics this summer - the USA last won gold at London 2012.

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Hayes took charge of her first training session with the US women's team as the squad prepare for the Paris Olympics

ESPN's lead NWSL and USWNT writer Jeff Kassouf exclusively told Sky Sports: "It is a moment of transition for the USWNT, but it has been for years now.

"And, like last year, there isn't a lot of time to make that transition happen before a major tournament.

"The USWNT's standard is win or bust. But realistically, given the circumstances, any colour medal would be an achievement."

'USWNT need Hayes' tactical flexibility'

Emma Hayes is known for her tactical fluidity, pictured alongside assistant Denise Reddy
Image: Hayes, pictured alongside assistant Denise Reddy, is known for her tactical fluidity

Hayes' tactical style will likely fit international football too. She cannot be defined by one formation or philosophy, instead using flexibility to suit the players at her disposal as well as the opponent.

For example, she won a domestic treble using a 4-3-3 formation in the 2020/21 season, as well as reaching the Champions League final. The following year, she switched to a back three, winning the WSL and FA Cup once again.

For the USA, this could be a double-edged sword. Unlike club football, Hayes will not have a theoretically unlimited plethora of players to choose from to fit what she wants to do.

But the USA are hardly struggling for national team picks. In a nation so vast, who were the pioneers for women's and girls' football globally, it is hard to imagine Hayes not finding the players she needs.

And even then, she fits the system around the players rather than the other way around.

"Tactical fluidity is the first thing that comes to mind with Hayes, and it's what the USWNT needs," Kassouf added.

The USA struggled to adapt to opponents at last summer's World Cup, says ESPN's lead NWSL and USWNT writer Jeff Kassouf
Image: The USA struggled to adapt to opponents at last summer's World Cup, says ESPN's lead NWSL and USWNT writer Jeff Kassouf

"Their performances at the World Cup last year were rigid - they couldn't adapt to opponents like Portugal. They needed to get to half-time to sort things out against the Dutch.

"This USWNT has played a pretty standard version of a 4-3-3 for a long time, and a fresh perspective on systems should be welcomed."

And therein lies another point - Hayes has cultivated a successful recruitment policy at Chelsea, honed over years. She has previously said she looked a year or so into the future as her teams evolve.

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Highlights of the Women's Super League match between Manchester United and Chelsea

Evolution exists in international football too, as the USA are proving now. And there is a lot of planning that can be done as players come through the youth ranks.

But what will happen when Hayes faces a mid-tournament injury crisis? The USA had something similar before the 2023 World Cup. She will be unable to dip into the transfer market to sign a new player as she did when Mayra Ramirez arrived in January, shortly after Sam Kerr's ACL injury.

While there are elements that are certainly the same, there will be different challenges and applications that Hayes will have to navigate - as well as getting the players on board with her fluid style.

Hayes' player management will be key

One of Hayes' best attributes is her player management and ability to, not only identify, but develop talent into world-class players. There are multiple examples of it throughout the WSL and beyond. That will suit this USA team in transition too.

There could even be players we do not yet know who could become the next global superstars under Hayes' tutelage. Perhaps a player like 16-year-old Lily Yohannes, first called up in March 2024.

It was perhaps no surprise the teenager was named in Hayes' first roster ahead of her opening USA games against South Korea on June 1 and 5.

Emma Hayes' first USA roster

Goalkeepers: Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit), Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)

Defenders: Tierna Davidson (NJ/NY Gotham), Emily Fox (Arsenal), Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave), Casey Krueger (Washington Spirit), Jenna Nighswonger (NJ/NY Gotham), Emily Sonnett (NJ/NY Gotham), Sam Staab (Chicago Red Stars)

Midfielders: Korbin Albert (PSG), Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns), Hal Hershfelt (Washington Spirit), Lindsey Horan (Lyon), Rose Lavelle (NJ/NY Gotham), Lily Yohannes (Ajax)

Forwards: Crystal Dunn (NJ/NY Gotham), Catarina Macario (Chelsea), Alex Morgan (San Diego Wave), Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit), Jaedyn Shaw (San Diego Wave), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns), Mallory Swanson (Chicago Red Stars)

Kassouf explained: "This roster is about what you could expect: some players rewarded for fine league form, with a couple of first-time call-ups, plus the group that has been in the mix.

"As much as Hayes has stayed physically removed from the team, her fingerprints have been on this USWNT over the past six months, so it isn't as if she's finally been handed the wheel from a coach she didn't agree with.

"Creative players who crave freedom, like Rose Lavelle, should most enjoy the way Hayes wants to play. Cat Macario fits that role, too, and knows Hayes well from Chelsea."

Hayes will need to use all her experience of managing top players at club level with the ups and downs of international football too. She is known for forging bonds with her players, with the likes of Fran Kirby and Millie Bright praising her support in difficult moments.

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Hayes explains what winning Chelsea's seventh Women's Super League title meant to her and how much she will miss the club

At international level, not every player will be in every XI, let alone every squad. Those difficult conversations - and keeping players motivated, especially during long tournaments - will be another element for Hayes to navigate.

"The personality management might be the biggest thing here," Kassouf added. "There are plenty of great coaches, but it takes the right personality to manage the USWNT.

"Hayes is empathetic but demanding, player-first without being a pushover - constantly finding the balance. At this stage, player management is as important as tactics in the big picture."

Why the USA and Hayes are a perfect marriage

It was always going to take one almighty offer to lure Hayes away from Chelsea. Kassouf says the hiring of Hayes was "widely lauded and for good reason".

And it was clearly hard for her to leave her beloved Blues. "The love between me and this football club, it's painful for me to talk about. I'm so grateful for everything people here have done for me," she recently told Sky Sports News, speaking through tears.

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Hayes was brought to tears as she contemplated her final days as Chelsea manager, and said the players and staff, as well as the fans, will be what she will miss the most

It was the lure of the USA's top job that proved to be the one that broke up the record-breaking duo. To do so is quite the coup. You imagine if the opportunity had not come along, Hayes would have stayed with the Blues, winning trophies for years to come.

As she explained herself: "For me, the challenge of competing for World Cups, for Olympics, and the dream of coaching a team that I have always wanted to get the opportunity to do, I simply couldn't turn it down."

It is the perfect marriage of the country who first showed the world that women can be global football superstars, and a manager who continues to be a spearhead for change in the women's football, the voice of reason and authority on the issues in the game.

But it is the success-defining tournaments on which Hayes will ultimately be judged. Across world football, there are few with a more trophy-laden CV and proof of success under the weight of huge expectation.

"Truly, the answer [on any success] will come in 2027," Kassouf concluded. "She was hired to win that World Cup, no doubt. The work to be done between now and then is significant. But there is a lot to like about this hire and this relationship."

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