Impetus’ Kieran Yap was in the Chelsea head coach’s media conference for us yesterday and heard her talk about her Football Writers Player of the Year Sam Kerr, departing star Ji So-Yun and overcoming the threat of a Birmingham City side fighting for their FAWSL lives (30/4/22).
Above: Chelsea head coach Emma Hayes who spoke of the huge influence of Sam Kerr and Ji So-Yun on her team. Photo: Yui Mok PA Images.
There are no quiet news weeks at a club like Chelsea FC and coach Emma Hayes had only hours to bask in the 2-1 win over Tottenham that inched them closer to the title.
Speaking to the media ahead of another must-win game against Birmingham City, Hayes spoke glowingly about two of her best players, for very different reasons.
Star striker, Sam Kerr has been announced as the Football Writers player of the year. She receives the award alongside Mohammad Salah of Liverpool who was voted the best men’s player.
Kerr has so far scored 18 times for Chelsea in the league this season, including a vital matchwinner against Tottenham. Her strike rate is even more remarkable considering that she does not take penalties for Chelsea. Hayes estimated that 16 of her goals came from what she called the “golden zone” around the six-yard box.
The other player that everybody was talking about was midfielder Ji So-Yun. The South Korean star will depart Chelsea as a legend of the club after announcing her departure. She remains one of Haye’s most influential signings and favourite players to coach.
“She’s watched this club grow from semi-pro status to full-time status to champions league finalists and serial winners domestically,” said Hayes.
“I know I will miss her, I have a great relationship with Ji and we’ve had some tough conversations over the last few months.
“It’s important to remember that Ji has been without doubt the best international player into the WSL ever.
“She’s been an important cog in this team but she’s also going to pass on vital knowledge to the next generation coming through in Jessie Fleming and Lauren James.
“Ji goes with our blessing, and I think the time is right for her to live another challenge. I know that we leave each other in the best possible place. She is very much and always will be a part of this family
Hayes is optimistic that the younger players in her squad will be able to step up in Ji’s absence. They are impossibly huge boots to fill, and Chelsea will not be shopping for a direct replacement, simply because none exist.
“You can’t replace Ji. What I’ve learned is you can’t replace people with like for like. That’s not something I like to do. I think Ji is unique, special, one-off, and been instrumental in our success up to this point.”
On the subject of Kerr, Chelsea have the world’s best striker in at the peak of her powers. When she arrived at Chelsea she was already the record goals scorer in Australia and The USA. However long-term fans of Kerr’s saw further improvement in the FAWSL.
Most notably her off-the-ball work rate and ability to lose defenders or break offside traps has made her an even more deadly threat.
“The timing of her movement, I have never seen a forward with that quality before,” said Hayes of Kerr’s quality.
“I think she gets penalised, if I’m brutally honest with you… I think the officials need to be better at recognising that Sam’s timing is really really good and perhaps theirs is not.
“I think she gets penalised for offside when she isn’t, and that’s a gift. That is something that you can’t teach. She’s got a natural ability to make the right runs and time the right runs and be in the right areas. There’s no question that Sam Kerr is one of the best players I’ve ever coached.”
Since arriving at Chelsea, Kerr has scored 40 goals in 44 matches. It may be a frightening thought for defenders around the world, but according to Hayes, she is still constantly looking to improve.
“I do think there’s more to come. I think there’s little details all the time we’re asking her to work at. As I told her this morning, it’s a prestigious award, and one that she should be so proud of. I know how important it is in this country and I think she’s completely deserving.
“She’s really produced goals in really key moments, especially the second half of the season but we’ve all come to expect that from Sam. She lives with the privilege and that pressure really really well. She copes with it and thrives on it to be honest with you.
“She’s one of the coolest customers there is come game day. The bigger the opponent the bigger the game I think the better she gets.”
Kerr adapted relatively quickly to the FAWSL, despite some frustrating misses at the start of the 2020/21 season, she soon started scoring with incredible consistency. Hayes signed a star, but Kerr has worked hard at becoming a Chelsea player to the benefit of club, country, and the footballer.
“I think it’s a combination of things,” reflects Hayes. “I know what she needs and what she doesn’t need, I figured that one out. Sam is a hard worker in training and that’s where the magic happens.
“She’s applying all the details and diligence on the training ground and the league had for sure improved Sam but the credit is all her. That’s what makes her the player and the person she is. She’s committed to making herself the best possible player in the world.”
With all of the fanfare about Kerr’s award and Ji’s impending departure, it would be easy to forget that Chelsea still have a game on Sunday. Two more wins will guarantee the title remains at Kingsmeadow.
Birmingham City are no easy task and Hayes is is not taking them lightly. “I think everybody has to pay a bit more respect to Birmingham and the fact that they aren’t out of the division…They’re fighting for their lives. They certainly won’t be underestimated by us.
“We know that they are confident about their abilities to stay in the WSL. We’re going to have to find something else again this time against a very different opponent to Tottenham but one that is nonetheless going to do everything they can to take points off of us.
“They’re going to make it difficult like Tottenham did. We have to be better, we’ve conceded two goals from set-pieces that we haven’t conceded all year. That’s not good enough from us. It’s the way that we’re conceding the corners or the free kicks that are the concern for me. You have to stop it at its source.”
For the second season in a row, Chelsea’s title hopes are down to the wire. It is an exciting end for neutrals and the Chelsea boss relishes the contest for the trophy, whether that be against Arsenal or Manchester City like it was previously.
“I always enjoy the process of competing to win, I like that we’ve found some real consistency in our performances, especially in the second half of the season.
“I like that we’ve developed depth within the squad again. I think Chelsea’s future is bright, and I’ve been here so many times to know that nothing is won yet. We need to keep grinding every day because we’ve got another important game this week.”