Chelsea Women had created a frenzy. On Nov. 4, the English club released a statement saying their coach Emma Hayes was leaving at the end of the season to “pursue a new opportunity outside of the Women’s Super League and club football.” Hayes had just entered her second decade in charge of the club, and few knew where she would land next.
That same day The Athletic, among others, reported that Hayes’ next job would be with the U.S. women’s national team, leading a four-time World Cup and Olympic gold medal-winning program into a new era. On Tuesday, U.S. Soccer made her appointment official.
Hayes, who previously won six WSL titles in England, will become the 10th full-time coach of the U.S., but not until her final season with Chelsea is complete next May. Sporting director Matt Crocker made the final decision to hire Hayes after a search process that began in August, following the team’s surprising exit in the round of 16 at the World Cup and the subsequent departure of head coach Vlatko Andonovski.
“She has tremendous energy and an insatiable will to win,” U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said in a statement. “Her experience in the USA, her understanding of our soccer landscape and her appreciation of what it means to coach this team makes her a natural fit for this role and we could not be more pleased to have her leading our women’s national team forward.”
Though Hayes is seen as one of the world’s top coaches in women’s soccer, the appointment still comes as something of a surprise. Here’s how the deal got done.
Details of the deal
At least part of the surprise surrounding Hayes’ hire – and the six-month runway before she officially takes charge – is down to U.S. Soccer’s own messaging. Crocker, in a September meeting with U.S. reporters along with Cone and U.S. Soccer CEO J.T. Batson, said he hoped to have a new head coach in place by December.
But the initial contact with Hayes was made a couple of months ago, early into the search, with all three top-level executives from U.S. Soccer involved in those talks. The trio also described the interview process to journalists in that September meeting – a U.S. soccer statement describes it as involving “psychometrics and abstract reasoning tests, in-depth discussions of strategy, coaching philosophy and the current player pool, as well as evaluation on the reactions to pressure, culture-building and interactions with players and staff.” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter went through a similar process, including an abstract reasoning test, when he was re-hired by Crocker earlier in 2023.
The hiring process included multiple rounds of evaluation, with the list of candidates becoming smaller each time. The first pass was driven purely by data, which was then whittled down to a double-digit list Crocker was considering as of September, and then a final shortlist, which also included Tony Gustavsson, head coach of Australia. Multiple sources confirmed both Hayes and Gustavsson flew to the U.S. for interviews.
One source who was briefed on the situation said the federation had also checked in on the availability of Sarina Wiegman, despite clear messaging from both the English FA and Wiegman herself in August. “I’m staying out of it. I’ve heard it (from the press officer) but no, I’m with England and I’m really happy with England, and I have a contract until 2025,” Wiegman said. A representative from her camp declined to comment for this story.
Crocker said in September that the final interviews would include lengthy technical and tactical assessments, as well as questions to determine the candidates’ cultural fit. He and the federation stayed fairly consistent on their desired start date since the head coach role opened in August, but that became one of the major concessions made by U.S. Soccer in selecting Hayes.
She’s headed Stateside 🇺🇸
Welcome, Emma! pic.twitter.com/WYn6Sg9RmX
— U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (@USWNT) November 14, 2023
Hayes will remain exclusively with Chelsea through the end of their WSL campaign and the Champions League season. She will not work with the U.S. in international windows.
“I’m here until the end,” she said in her press conference on Friday. “I haven’t died, I haven’t gone anywhere. I’m here, doing this job. My full focus and attention is on what I do for Chelsea.”
Hayes could be tied up with Chelsea as late as May 25 if the London club makes the Champions League final; notably, an international window that would theoretically be Hayes’ first in charge begins just two days later, on May 27.
However, there are ways in which the arrangement will benefit U.S. Soccer. The federation won’t owe any compensation to Chelsea, and Hayes will be fully committed to the program, with a move to Chicago in the works for next year following the completion of her time in London. Eventually, she’s expected to relocate to Atlanta thanks to U.S. Soccer’s planned combined headquarters and national training facility in Georgia. As of yet, there’s no targeted date set for the move.
Hayes, too, will benefit in ways other than compensation and prestige. She spoke to reporters about looking forward to spending more time with her five-year-old son, Harry. She has never been to one of his sports days, picked him up from school or taken him to an after-school club and she wants to do that.
The main visible wrinkle in the process was Chelsea’s surprise move of announcing Hayes’ departure on Saturday, Nov. 4. With the contract not yet finalized and U.S. Soccer board approval still needed, Chelsea issued their statement at 11 a.m. ET in the U.S. in which it noted she would leave at the end of the season “to pursue a new opportunity outside of the WSL and club football.” The club feared that the news was starting to leak and wanted to share the news on its own. This began the race to confirm Hayes had been selected as the USWNT head coach.
Talks between U.S. Soccer and Hayes’ representatives continued even after Chelsea’s press release. The federation’s board convened late on Saturday, Nov. 4 to approve the selection, even without the final details of the contract settled or signed.
At the end of it all, the sides have agreed to a deal that will make Hayes the highest-paid women’s football coach in the world — though her salary is not tied to equal compensation with Berhalter. While her salary is in the same range as the USMNT head coach, it’s thought to be a reflection of the market value for Hayes. With reports that Chelsea was prepared to quadruple her salary to keep her, Hayes herself danced around the details in her first media availability with the club.
“I believe in private conversations,” she said. “Of course, I’m disappointed to hear things being said in the press. I want to make sure I maintain my own professionalism in everything I do.”
U.S Soccer’s annual financial reports reveal the salaries of their head coaches and other executives. While Berhalter received a new contract this year, his previous deal that ran from April 2021 to March 2022, earned him $1.6 million, including $300,000 in bonuses. During that same time, Andonovski earned $446,495, of which only $50,000 was bonus money. With Hayes expected to earn close to $2 million per year in her deal, this will likely create a knock-on effect for other international women’s coaches negotiating their next contracts.
U.S. Soccer’s rollout of their new head coach has not been an easy one for the federation’s communications staff, considering that Hayes is essentially unavailable for any formal ceremonies or media appearances until her time with Chelsea is complete.
“This is a huge honor to be given the opportunity to coach the most incredible team in world football history,” she said in a statement on Tuesday. “The feelings and connection I have for this team and for this country run deep. I’ve dreamed about coaching the USA for a long time so to get this opportunity is a dream come true. I know there is work to do to achieve our goals of winning consistently at the highest levels. To get there, it will require dedication, devotion and collaboration from the players, staff and everyone at the U.S. Soccer Federation.”
Looking ahead for the USWNT
Hayes’ appointment will have an immediate impact, even if she’s not immediately present. The particulars around timing and the plan moving forward have been one of the areas of discussion between Hayes and her representatives, Chelsea and U.S. Soccer that has continued through the start of November.
Unless the situation changes drastically, Hayes will only have two camps, including four friendlies, with the USWNT ahead of the 2024 Olympics in Paris. She’ll miss three international windows between Tuesday’s announcement and her planned start date, including the 2024 CONCACAF Gold Cup in February and March.
U.S. Soccer has a plan in place for the transition. Current interim head coach Twila Kilgore will continue in the role through May and will remain as a permanent assistant coach under Hayes after the swap is complete. U.S. Soccer said that Kilgore and the rest of the technical staff are working on a handoff plan for Hayes.
“This is a unique situation, but the team is in safe hands with Twila,” Crocker said. “Her stewardship will be crucial during this period as we are focused on success at the Olympics. Emma has endorsed Twila, she will be a key part of Emma’s staff when she arrives and moving forward, and we are excited for what’s to come with our USWNT program.”
How Emma Hayes’ winning ways at Chelsea can benefit USWNT on the field
It’s still an extremely tight turn for the Olympics, with 18 days for Hayes to get situated with the team ahead of the tournament, between the two international windows from May 27 to June 4, then July 8 to 16. The Olympic tournament will start on July 25.
There are, of course, logistical questions about roster selection over the next few months. Some of those may be answered relatively soon, with the roster for the upcoming camp that begins at the end of the month imminent. The greater challenge will likely be ongoing player evaluation over the next six months, at a time of great transition within the squad. The specifics of how that will work without Hayes’ involvement remain a mystery. It would be understandable for players to feel like they are still auditioning for an absent director until May rolls around, while still knowing they must perform at the USWNT standard.
Along these same lines, there is at least the suggestion that the federation could be willing to sacrifice coherent preparation for this upcoming Olympic tournament to focus more on the longer-term project of the 2027 World Cup. That itself represents a marked change from the expectations and pressure of constant performance and winning that the team is known for.
Is that a good or a bad thing? Perhaps a little bit of both. The USWNT shouldn’t be ruled out of contention for the Olympics by any stretch, but this past summer’s World Cup did reveal that the problems facing the team are far more foundational than just poor coaching decisions or the strange midfield chemistry. Balancing realism with the pressure to win feels like a much more sustainable path forward for the USWNT.
USWNT’s Emma Hayes hire could create a problem in preparation for the Olympics
What’s next for Chelsea?
Questions surrounding Hayes’ future have cropped up previously in her tenure at Chelsea. She was linked to several jobs in the men’s English Football League in the past and has always been interested in managing Spain’s national team, although there was never an official conversation with Spain’s federation. So it was a question of when, not if, Hayes would leave. Still, news of her decision came as a shock to her staff and players.
A few staff members were told on the morning of Nov. 4 before Chelsea’s away game at Aston Villa kicked off at 12.30 p.m. UK time. Most of the other staff members found out with the players in the post-match meeting minutes before the official club statement, which Hayes had no hand in writing and did not even see before publication, was released at 3 p.m.
England and Chelsea captain Millie Bright was “devastated,” and most players were understandably sad — many of whom owe their career progression to Hayes — but know they still have a job to do this season.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. As a player and a person, I was devastated. I’ve been here nine years under Emma and the things I’ve learned,” Bright said. “She’s a mentor, a coach, a friend, a life coach. It’s more than just football playing under her.”
Hayes’ American assistant Denise Reddy, born in New Jersey, is likely to follow her across the pond. The former United States Under-20 coach has remained faithful to her friend of 20 years and voluntarily quit her job as assistant at Chicago Red Stars in 2010 when Hayes was fired as head coach. Chelsea’s general manager Paul Green will stay at the club. It is unclear whether any other members of Chelsea’s technical staff are expected to depart.
What next for Chelsea after Emma Hayes?
The relentless nature of managing a club takes its toll and after what will be 12 years at Chelsea come the end of the season, Hayes, a single parent whose father died last month, decided that it was the right time for a change, professionally and personally.
“The biggest factors are my son, leaving at the top and giving the club enough time to be able to transition without there being too much disruption,” she said in her press conference.
The club has received several applications regarding Hayes’ replacement but has not yet started an official recruitment process. She will meet with Chelsea’s technical directors once a week to create a succession plan and will have a say in who takes the job after her.
There is the possibility of Hayes retaining a connection to the club via some sort of ambassadorial role, but it’s likely contingent upon a lack of conflict with the USWNT role and responsibilities. Under American Todd Boehly’s co-ownership, expanding Chelsea’s profile and reach in the U.S. would make sense, especially with USWNT internationals Catarina Macario and Mia Fishel playing their club football there — and CBS Sports holding WSL rights.
There is, for now, an immediate task for Hayes to focus on. Chelsea faces off against Real Madrid on Wednesday for their first match of the UWCL Champions League group stage. Her full American arrival will not come for another half a year after that.
(Top photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)