Emma Hayes walked into the Stamford Bridge press room, downcast. Her Chelsea side had been outclassed over the previous hour and a half by Wolfsburg, who take a three-goal advantage into next week’s second leg of the Women’s Champions League Round of 32.
Chelsea were magnificent in the league in 2015, winning both the Women’s Super League and the FA Women’s Cup.
This year has not been so successful, with all the silverware heading elsewhere, but Hayes points to some positives.
“Serial winning is difficult,” she said.
“If we finish second and we’ve made a cup final [against Arsenal in the FA Cup], I don’t necessarily see that as a disappointment.
“Teams like Liverpool and Arsenal might bite my hand off to be in this competition [the Champions League]. Getting Wolfsburg [in the draw] isn’t ideal for any of us – we’re still a club in our infancy, and clearly we’re not at their level.
“We have to keep it in context – we’ve gone from being a team that’s never challenged for anything to being in the Champions League three years running, potentially.”
Hayes added, “But we’ve dropped our standards. I’m the sort of person who constantly raises the bar, not just for myself but for the culture, and I’m disappointed that there’s not enough of us raising the level. I think for a club of this stature that’s important.
“It’s not like no-one cares. The players are hurt, they’re struggling, and they’re lacking in a little bit of confidence at the moment.
“Maybe going away to Wolfsburg three-nil down will be fantastic for us – there’s no pressure. In the big games, we’ve fluffed our lines this year.”
She was reluctant to say that she felt she had been let down by her players – but the nature of the defeat stung, with two of Zsanett Jakabfi’s three goals coming from defensive mistakes.
Olympic silver medallist Hedvig Lindahl had an off day in goal, with a spot of miscommunication with full-back Claire Rafferty leading directly to the first goal.
“I’m as much to blame for that performance as they are,” Hayes said thoughtfully.
“The reality is we give the players a game plan. Up until the goal we are executing what we need for most parts of it – but it’s just the cheap goals.
“For us to concede two goals in the first-half with relative ease is what’s disappointed me the most. I can’t hide my disappointment. I’m bitterly disappointed.”
Hayes paid tribute to Wolfsburg’s excellence, adding that she hoped that the 3,783 fans had enjoyed watching their sublime display. In return, the German team’s coach Ralf Kellermann said he didn’t think Chelsea had given a true account of their capabilities – and at their best they would be a test for the top women’s Bundesliga sides.
Hayes did not single out any players for praise or criticism, suggesting that while she would watch the match over again in preparation for the second leg, her team would have to think about their own contributions.
“I’m not going to sit here and throw them under the bus – they haven’t performed well, and bar a couple of performances, I’m sure they’ll be disappointed,” she added.
“It’s up to them to take responsibility. They have to reflect honestly, and then they have to remember it’s a job.
“They have to come back tomorrow and be professionals – and you’ve got to compete with pride when you wear the shirt of this club.”
*Carrie Dunn is SHOOT’s Women’s Football correspondent. Her book ‘The Roar of the Lionesses: Women’s Football in England’ is out now – available in all good bookshops.*