It is tempting to imagine Emma Hayes as soccer’s Wonder Woman who comes to America to fight for peace, justice and World Cup glory. Fierce and determined, she is imbued with motivational powers, tactical acuity and a mental fortitude that should help her blow past any obstacle in her path until she has achieved nothing less than restoring the toppled majesty of the U.S. women’s national team to its rightful place on the global throne.

But that’s comic book fantasy, of course, and Hayes laughs raucously as the above scenario is recounted to her.

“I wish I was blessed with superpowers but unfortunately no coach is,” she says. “I’m not coming here to alter the universe or even to guarantee winning a World Cup. All I can promise is that I will leave U.S. Soccer in a better place than where I found it.”

When we first met up with Hayes last December, shortly after she accepted the toughest job in women’s sports, she was sitting in a luxury hotel restaurant on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. All around her were hundreds of hotel guests sipping their high-end scotches and tequilas while living their best Southern California lives, oblivious to an exhausted, harried mother trying to soothe her overtired five-year-old son, Harry, who’s draped across her lap.

Soon enough, Emma Hayes will not be able to vanish in an American crowd. When she steps onto the touchline at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Denver on June 1 for a friendly against South Korea, she will be the most scrutinized, highest-paid and meme-worthy coach in women’s soccer.

Hayes will be up against the tyranny of expectations that accompanies being coach of the USWNT. The job comes with historical baggage freighted with the four stars on the crest of the national team’s jersey, a constant reminder of how high the bar is set for the players and the person entrusted to lead them to a fifth star, another World Cupqu. Her dynastic 12-year tenure in England included seven league titles, five FA Cups, two League cups, a Champions League final and the 2021 FIFA coach of the year honors, all the while revolutionizing the sport in her country, for which she was awarded an OBE in 2023. What nation beset by a plague of unfathomable soccer losses wouldn’t sink to its knees, brandish fistfuls of cash and desperately welcome this heaven-sent savior?

The only glitch: For the first six months, she’d be 3,000 miles away from her new team — an anxious bunch of American players attempting to regain their footing after their quarterfinal face plant in the 2023 World Cup. Officially arriving Thursday in New York to assume her USWNT coaching duties, Hayes is in a buoyant mood after a couple of soul-sapping months at Chelsea triumphantly crowned by a historic fifth consecutive title this past Saturday on the final day of the season.

Much has been made of the Olympics podium that Hayes hopes to mount in Paris, beginning with the group stage opener against Zambia on July 26. There is hardly time to learn every player’s name, much less familiarize herself with their skill sets, personality quirks and pressure points, then mold them into a team ready to win a gold medal.

Known as a gale-force personality, she will challenge her players, her coaches and staff, as well as any lingering male patriarchy that gets in her way. She will defiantly stand up to social media trolls and speak the truth exactly as she sees it to any fans who aren’t willing to sign on for the brave new world she ushers in.

People may ask whether Emma Hayes is ready for America, but perhaps it makes more sense to ask whether America is ready for Emma Hayes?

(Editor’s note: The following conversation took place over Zoom earlier this week as Emma Hayes was packing up her Chelsea office. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.)


ESPN: It’s safe to say that no coach has arrived here with more fanfare other than Jurgen Klinsmann and we know how that turned out. Would you like to take this opportunity to lower people’s expectations?

Emma Hayes: (laughs) Seriously, I know the challenge ahead of me. There is no denying there is a gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world. Some nations in the world from Spain to England have unbelievable national teams that are deserving of their positions of being world champions and European champions.

We have to acknowledge that winning at the highest level isn’t what it was 10 years ago. It’s a completely different landscape. And my focus is going to be on getting the performances required to play at a high level against the very best nations in the world.

ESPN: For all your success with Chelsea, you’ve never coached a national team. How big an adjustment do you anticipate it’s going to be from the season-long window working with players vs. the short bursts of national team camps? And have you reached out to any other coaches who have made this leap — for example, your predecessor Vlatko Andonovski?

I will speak to previous national team coaches and look for their guidance not only on the transition, which I hope Gregg (Berhalter) in particular will help me with, but also Vlatko and Jill Ellis. I want to learn as much as I can as quickly as possible from them.

But football’s football. It’s 11 vs. 11. I’m accustomed to coaching 44 games a year, and I’m coming into a situation where I’m going to be coaching a fraction of that. But I know how to build teams. And we will hit the ground running.

A lot of work has been going on in the background for the last six months through [interim coach] Twila Kilgore. Not only has she delivered success on the pitch, but more importantly she’s been drip feeding subliminal messages, building the roster around what I’ve been wanting.

ESPN: When we had dinner with you several months ago, you said you were underwhelmed by the U.S. midfield, which you felt allowed opponents to play through them too easily. Since then, we’ve seen a lot more of Sam Coffey and Korbin Albert as a double pivot. Is that part of your tactical shift? Is that a change you made after the Mexico loss in the Gold Cup? And have you been selecting the lineups since then?

It’s fair to say I’ve been collaborating with Twila ever since November. I’ve asked to see players that weren’t in the World Cup last year. I’ve watched Korbin play for PSG. I was hugely impressed by Sam Coffey when Chelsea played against the Thorns in a tournament in Portland. The Mexico defeat certainly gave us another opportunity to put together some of the players that I’ve really wanted to see.

ESPN: Where would you be today if the U.S. job hadn’t opened up? Would you still be at Chelsea, or had you reached that point where you needed a fresh challenge no matter where it would take you?

As you know, when the U.S. approached me, I was going through a really difficult personal time in my life with my dad dying. Perhaps that was the catalyst I needed. The timing was right. I don’t regret the things I do, I only regret things I don’t do, so this was probably the only job that could have prised me away from Chelsea, to be honest. This was the job I wanted. This is the one I was waiting for.

ESPN: As we speak Monday, your good buddy Jurgen Klopp may well be slaloming down the slopes of the Bavarian Alps starting his one-year sabbatical after leaving Liverpool, yet you didn’t even take a long weekend between jobs. What does that say about you?

Look, I’m not gonna sit here and pretend and say the timing is ideal. It’s not. But how amazing. I get to fly to New York on Wednesday, Denver on Friday, meet the team on Monday, prepare for the Olympics. I’ll have a break at the end of August.

ESPN: Did Klopp drop his iPhone when you told him you were taking the job?

We just talked about getting to the end of our careers with our clubs, and how difficult it is, how intense it is. You have to deliver an awful lot on and off the pitch in our positions. And it takes its toll and we just gave words of encouragement to each other, to be honest. Lots of support.

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1:55

The ‘big questions’ Emma Hayes will have to address as USWNT boss

Sebastian Salazar details the biggest areas Emma Hayes will look to address when she takes over the USWNT.


ESPN: When you talk about intensity and pressure, you know what a polarizing flashpoint the U.S. Women’s National team is. You recently deleted your Twitter and Instagram accounts because of torrents of abuse in the UK. You have never shied away from making your voice heard on such things as the soccer patriarchy and the fight for equity. Are you going to curb your urge to speak out as loudly as before?

My decision to back away from social media in the UK was less about the abuse towards me than the abuse towards my family. No matter what I do and what my decisions are, my job is to protect my family. But I also think we can’t isolate ourselves in a world where we can’t read things and can’t see things. So you have to have filters. If I feel that it’s a particular moment where I’m like, this is enough, I don’t want to subject myself to that, then I’ll deactivate my accounts, to be able to preserve the energy I need.

It was the right decision for me in that moment in time, just as it’s the right decision for me to turn it on and say thanks to the fans, come the end. I accept the charged social media culture I’m entering in the U.S., but you’re never going to please everyone. And I don’t really worry about things like that. I will always champion the right things. I’ll always advocate the right things. I will not change. Absolutely not.

ESPN: At times like this, when you’re celebrating another title and you’re taking on a new momentous challenge, you must really miss your dad, Sid, who was your North Star for everything soccer related…

He was.

ESPN: Which of his many words of wisdom were echoing in your ear during the rather bumpy couple of months at the end of Chelsea’s season?

Probably the first thing he’d say to me is don’t look at those attacks on social media.

ESPN: In other words, just close your eyes and ears?

Ignore the noise and just do your job. Do what you’re paid to do and spend some time with Harry. Go and do something with him. Switch off. That’s what he always said and to be fair to him, he wouldn’t have changed. He’d have took the piss outta me. He’d crack a joke and lighten the mood. I come from a family that know how to do that really well.

My sister Victoria said it was just so incredible for me to beat Manchester United and bow out at Old Trafford, the Theater of Dreams. It was perfect. It was a fairytale ending. And Victoria said to me, the only thing that was missing was daddy. I think he would’ve really felt that emotion in an extraordinary way, knowing what I had to endure this past season. I also know it was him who told me it’s time to go. I carry this necklace everywhere.

(she pulls it out from under her t-shirt and leans forward)

ESPN: And what’s on it?

The American Eagle.

ESPN: And he gave it to you…

No, no. I mean, after he passed, my sisters took his high-end watches and I took this necklace. So he’s definitely with me. But I’m gutted he wasn’t around to see me get the U.S. job.

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1:46

Why Krieger is expecting a ‘seamless’ transition into the USWNT for Hayes

Ali Krieger debates how Emma Hayes will adapt to managing a national team side.

ESPN: Your dad always encouraged you to take risks, which is why he told you to go to America in the first place in 2001. You eventually got your big break with Chicago Red Stars. But you were sacked shortly into the second season. Your sister Becky said that she thought it was a blessing in disguise and in your book, Kill the Unicorn, you write that you were consumed by your limitations, and that you couldn’t cope with failing to find a solution. In the end, you prayed that you’d be sacked.

If we’re being honest, yes.

ESPN: How did that experience change you both professionally and emotionally?

I’m grateful for everything I experienced there, learning how to build a roster, how to build a franchise — and this is at the time when social media started too — how to build a brand. I learned skills in Chicago that helped me drive the women’s game in England.

I had put together a roster that looked amazing on paper. It really did.

ESPN: Which included five U.S. national team players…

Yet it lacked the chemistry on the pitch and the cohesion. And it felt like no matter what I could do, I couldn’t influence it. So I lost myself a little in that. And look, let’s be brutally honest: That Chicago team never went on to win, so it wasn’t like it was solely the coach. It’s always a combination of things, but I needed it. I needed to struggle. I felt like a hurt dog that needed to be put down. I was relieved.

I remember Jill Ellis texting me when I got fired, and she said ‘welcome to the club … you’ve never coached before unless you’ve been sacked.’ And that just stuck with me.


ESPN: Do you ever think back to those early days in America when as a side hustle you were supplementing your Iona salary by coaching U-15 teams in some youth tournament on Long Island. Did you ever imagine that one day you’d be the highest-paid female coach in the world and called upon to save us women’s soccer?

The question you should be asking is: did you?

ESPN: We always thought your maniacal support for Spurs would hold you back.

(laughs) I’m just glad that we ruined Arsenal’s chance to win the league.

ESPN: Seriously, even we never dreamed you’d be heading to Paris as coach of the USWNT 20 years later.

I always knew I was gonna achieve really big things in football. I had a congratulatory text from Sean Brennan, the athletic director at Iona who hired me. He recalled how I took the job with no salary at first in exchange for Iona helping me with my work papers. He told me there was something about me that he knew would be successful. Still, I had no money, but I was lucky that I had a landlord who didn’t toss me out on the street. It took me nine months to get paid by Iona.

I think mine is just a great story of someone who’s been through the layers of the soccer landscape in the United States. It isn’t like I didn’t put my time in. But don’t get me wrong. I’ll pinch myself that first moment when I walk onto the pitch in Denver. I think that will be surreal for me.

ESPN: If we were flies on the wall, what would we hear you say to your new team?

I’ve already spoken to the team, and that’s between us, but I will say I want to create new history. I want new heights and a new identity. Like these are our three focuses. I want a lasting impact on soccer in this country.

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1:23

USWNT’s Morgan ready to ‘battle’ for Olympics spot

Alex Morgan says she is ready to make Emma Hayes and Twila Kilgore’s Olympic roster selection difficult.

ESPN: You’ve written that one of the key things for a coach is to spot when a star veteran has begun to decline. These must be crucial and difficult conversations between you and a player. Do you anticipate having any of these heart-to-hearts with the current U.S. mainstays?

Listen, of course, they’re tough conversations to have. And there’ll be some players left off the roster, and sometimes out of the starting 11. But I haven’t made a decision about the Olympic roster yet, so there is time.

I’ve been talking to the coaching team, the analytics team, been watching packages of players on film. I am aware of how everybody’s doing at their clubs. Everybody just needs to focus on their performances until the team is selected. And there are no guarantees for anyone.

ESPN: You’ve always relied on a couple of veterans to galvanize the young players.

Yeah. You need experience. You can’t go into the Olympic arena without it.

ESPN: You put such a premium on understanding your players, their needs, their value systems, whatever they might be going through — otherwise, you wrote in your book, you won’t be able to tap into their talent. Should we be concerned that with only this short window and four friendlies before the Olympics, you won’t have enough time to assess your players as thoroughly as you did at Chelsea?

Look, there’s a team that’s been together for a while, and there’s a coaching staff behind the team still in place. They know these players inside and out and that will accelerate my understanding of those things. So it’s not like I go in there with zero knowledge.


ESPN: According to your family, you were inconsolable after defeat as a nine-year-old playing with the boys in Camden Town, and that not much has changed in the intervening 38 years. Is it fair to say that you don’t take losing well?

No, I don’t enjoy it. (laughs) I don’t know anyone who does. But I absolutely learn from it.

That is one thing with me. I will wring it dry until I have learned every lesson about myself, and how I can do better. But look, this is a process.

ESPN: What is your response to those in the UK who called your behavior quote unladylike after certain defeats? Are they trying to say you should know your place?

What is this, Victorian England here? (laughs) What does that mean, ladylike? Does that mean, go back to the kitchen? The sexism and misogyny we have to endure is ongoing.

ESPN: Is it more pronounced in the UK than in the U.S.?

Yes, 100%.

ESPN: Your dad once said that if you had not gone into coaching, he thought you’d make an excellent spy. Not many people know you have a master’s in intelligence and foreign affairs. Do you think working for MI6 would be any less stressful than coaching at an elite level?

(laughs) I would’ve loved to have worked in counter intelligence. I’d have loved to be a part of a covert operation somewhere. There is no doubt. I have definitely applied an academic understanding to being a football manager. And it has served me well.

ESPN: Before Chelsea played Lyon in the 2019 semifinals of the Champions League, you told the team, “Every one of their players is arguably the best in the world. You can either sit here and s— yourself or you face it and go for it.” So is that what you’ll say should the U.S. face off against Spain possibly in the Olympics?

I will make sure the team are as prepared as they possibly can be in every way. But this isn’t just psychological. We have to tactically be good enough to deliver game plans against the top teams. You cannot win with physicality and mentality alone. I have to get that right in my selection for the Olympics, because with only 18 plus four alternates on the roster, I need players that are not just robust enough, but, you know, tactically flexible enough.

ESPN: Didn’t you sign off at your last news conference by telling the media that you may see them again soon, perhaps when the U.S. team is on the medal stand after beating Spain?

You guys are going to have to get used to my tongue-in-cheek jokes. I’m not coming to the US to make the numbers up, but I’m not delusional either. Spain is so far ahead of everyone else.


ESPN: By all accounts, Harry has been buzzing about your move to the US. What is it that’s got him so excited?

I remember when Aaron Heifetz, the U.S. press officer, asked Harry what’s your favorite state in America? His response was Disneyland (laughs). So that says everything. But he’s a six-year-old boy, so he also loves Marvel characters and Star Wars and the birthplace of all these are in the United States. I’ve taught him a lot about my time in the US. I can’t wait to show him the country. He runs around the house on a regular basis, chanting ‘USA, USA.’ He’s got his hat and T-shirt ready.

ESPN: We know you’d love to spend the rest of the day talking with us, but you are rushing off to pick Harry up at school.

Exactly.

ESPN: Is there anything in the world that you would rather be doing at this moment?

No. I rarely get to see him after school. He couldn’t believe it when I said it to him this morning. He’s like, you’re gonna be home after work? And I said, I’m always gonna be home after work now.

ESPN: Any final words to inspire the American fan base?

I can promise American fans that they’ll have a hundred percent of me. I feel fresh as a daisy. I’m ready for the adventure of a lifetime.

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