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English football isn't ready for a female manager

Wednesday 29th May 2019
Emma Hayes Chelsea Ios Dan Whelan

Emma Hayes wants the Chelsea job if Maurizio Sarri leaves. The notion that men’s football in England is even remotely prepared to accept for a female manager is absurd.  Absurd and sad.

In an ideal world where all things are equal, a woman might have already been appointed as a manager. It's been done in Germany and France. Perhaps 20 years ago when 2019 was just a speck on the horizon we might have imagined a sport where minority groups felt comfortable, welcome, part of the fabric.

But here we are, the speck now an ugly splodge. Women continue to struggle to be taken seriously by their male peers. Black managers remain grossly underrepresented. Gay players hide in fear.

Emma Hayes expressed interest in the men’s job at Chelsea. While her interest is somewhat premature with Maurizio Sarri still in charge pending results this evening in Baku, fan reactions are revelatory.

It would be hard to justify her appointment using the commonly accepted criteria for a manager. She never played professionally and has no experience managing in the men's game. Indeed, considering her for a job as high profile as Chelsea seems bizarre given that Sol Campbell, a former Premier League winner with 73 England caps, began his managerial journey with Macclesfield in League Two.

On the other hand, Hayes has more than shown she is a good coach.  Since joining Chelsea in 2012 she has won seven trophies including the league and cup double in 2017/18.  This season her side narrowly missed out on the Champions League final losing 3-2 against six-time champions Lyon over two legs. 

The question of whether she would be able to transfer her skills into the men’s game has been one of the biggest contentions among those talking about this.

There are huge differences between the men’s game and that played in the WSL but, while this may sound naive and simplistic, it’s still football.

Football is where Hayes excels, what she committed her life to decades ago.  In her first job, as Head Coach of Long Island Lady Riders, she was named manager of the year and guided the team to first place in their division in two out of three seasons.

After a three-year stint at Iona College as head of the women’s soccer programme, she took up the role of assistant coach at Arsenal.  In her first season, the club won all three domestic titles plus the Champions League. They were unbeaten in the league scoring 119 goals in 22 matches, conceding just 10.

Then came her big move to Chelsea. Seven years later, she is eyeing up a move to the men’s game.

There are so many reasons why it would be a good appointment. She knows the club better than anyone currently on the staff. She has a wealth of experience not only in management but in winning. Most importantly, her appointment would send a message to the world that the doors of English football are open to everyone.

Unfortunately, English football isn't ready. Least of all, Chelsea.

Appointing a female manager would be a fantastic PR move for a club that continually finds itself mired in controversies ending with -ism. John Terry was accused of racism for an exchange with Anton Ferdinand that was caught on video. Some creative out-of-contexting 'fooled' Her Majesty's magistrate but few others. The club then backed Jose Mourinho when he was accused of sexism and wrongful termination for sacking Eva Carneiro as team physio when she went on the pitch to help an injured player. Eden Hazard, no less. 

In addition, racism in the stands at Stamford Bridge appears to rival Serie A venues. Raheem Sterling's episode is one of many. Even Chelsea's own Callum Hudson-Odoi has spoken out against the behaviour.

Chelsea's record with diversity and equality isn't the best. Hiring a female manager would peg back that negative reputation significantly. The question is why a woman would want the job?

The abuse that pundits like Alex Scott receive for having the gall to voice their opinion on the game is indicative of the poisonous cloud which hangs over football. Whether the abuse is homophobic, sexist, racist, anti-sectarian or anti-Semitic you can count on football to play host to it and its authorities to do little to combat it.

The question of whether the players themselves would accept taking orders from a female coach is also up for debate.  Chelsea’s current squad probably has some extremely progressive and forward-thinking individuals. David Luiz comes to mind, along with Hudson-Odoi and Olivier Giroud. On the other hand, the squad managed to oust two of the more powerful managers in the game in Mourinho and Antonio Conte. If they are willing to call a mutiny on managers who have guided them to League titles, what chance would Emma Hayes have from the off?

One day, a club will take a chance on a female manager. Now is not the time. Prejudice must be fought but not by throwing good people to the wolves.

Football is still clinging on to its gnarled roots as a game for middle-aged, white, heterosexual men.  It has come a long way over the years but even today it remains common for people who fall outside those parameters to feel unwelcome.

I admire Hayes for her courage in wanting to run the gloomy gauntlet of men’s football but if she were to be hired it might have serious long term ramifications.

Imagine if Hayes is given the Chelsea job and forced out after a winless August. Those who mocked her appointment would be incandescent with glee. They would consider their bigoted protestations vindicated. ‘I told you a woman couldn’t manage a men’s team.'

If this were to happen it might be another 20 or 30 years before another woman is given a chance. By the time this country has gotten over its prejudices to the point where there will be enough support for a woman to be given more of an opportunity than, say, Frank de Boer, Hayes’s moment may have passed.

The only comfort is we are actually having a serious conversation about a woman head coach, rather than dismissing it out of hand. Baby steps.

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Dan Whelan

Dan is currently working as a columnist for Plymouth Argyle's award-winning programme, The Pilgrim.  He covers a variety of footballing topics but specifically enjoys writing about the inner-workings of the football fan.

He does this by drawing on his experiences following Argyle and his observations of the behaviour of supporters in both their natural environment (the terraces) and their technological playground (Twitter).


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