Emma Hayes was shocked – and a little embarrassed – when her name was called out as the winner of the Fifa Best Women’s Coach of the Year – but the Chelsea boss hopes more global exposure for women’s football will follow as a result.
Hayes, who led her side to a first domestic treble and first Champions League final in 2021, said it made her feel “uncomfortable” to win the award, but it was testament to her team’s success.
Alongside Hayes, Chelsea defenders Magdalena Eriksson and Millie Bright were named in the women’s Best XI.
“There are so many different, amazing coaches that are deserving of these awards. They always create more controversial conversations around it,” added Hayes.
“I’m a bit uncomfortable with it to be honest, however, I’m happy to receive it. I’m a team player. I feel like I believe in the team awards. I’m grateful for the brilliant people here at Chelsea that allow me to do my job every day.”
Eyebrows were raised when Canada’s English head coach Bev Priestman missed out on the final three candidates despite leading her country to a first Olympic gold in the summer.
There were also glaring omissions in the Best XI with no Barcelona player included despite them winning the Champions League and a domestic league and cup double.
Barcelona’s Alexia Putellas won the individual Women’s Player of the Year award, having won the Ballon d’Or in November, but was strangely not included in the Best XI.
Asked whether more exposure was needed to gain better recognition, Hayes said: “The game’s growing. We need even more media profile and presence. We can’t just talk about media profile in some parts of the world, but all of the world.
“Coaches, captains and media worldwide are voting for this. Maybe we spend too much time talking about awards instead of focusing on growing our game so more countries are exposed and we use that as a starting point.
“I think our league has done really well at selling rights all over the world. We need to talk about how we can get more women’s football into people’s lives across the globe so they become synonymous with more players as opposed to the ones they instantly recognise as the most famous ones.”
‘You’ve won an award, is that for being the best mummy?’
Hayes said she does not recognise herself as a role model because she is “just doing a job I love”, but wants to be part of a movement that influences the growth of the women’s game.
“It’s the whole sport and everything across that spectrum. It’s all of us that will influence the next level for the game in terms of making sure those that are involved, invested and influenced by it, that base becomes even bigger,” she added.
“It’s just about helping the game – I’m one of those parts to that. That movement for me is far more powerful than any other individual award. That for me is what will have the biggest impact on the legacy.”
However, Hayes admitted the award was a dream come true and her instant reaction took her back to her childhood.
“The first thing I thought about was that little kid in the orange flats kicking the ball against the wall and whether I was commentating on myself in a cup final or leading a team,” she said.
“As a little girl I dreamed of these things. I had a dream turn into a reality – and then I felt instantly embarrassed!
“The funniest thing about it all is that my son came downstairs and said ‘mummy, you’ve won an award. Is that for being the best mummy?’
“I had a dream fulfilled and, in my son’s eyes, I won an award for being Mummy of the Year.”
‘Healthy diversity is important’
Hayes said this season’s WSL has been the most competitive and that helps encourage further exposure.
“It’s brilliant, I love it. It’s what I’ve always wanted for the league. I’ve always felt this (other teams being more competitive) is what’s needed for us to go to the next step as a league,” she added.
“We don’t want to be in any other position because players get better from it, coaches get better and you get more exposure from it.
“I totally understand the notion that, for us to crack the next levels, perhaps this is one of those things that needs to happen. We need to have better teams in the league for a longer period.”
Hayes also said other domestic leagues can learn from the WSL in appointing successful female coaches.
She added: “I’m proud of the league for that, I’ve often said that. The NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) has a lot to learn, in my opinion – as does the French league, the German league, the Spanish league – about appointing women.
“This isn’t about just appointing women into jobs. It’s just demonstrating that healthy diversity is important – in any level – for the players and the whole sport.”