The third FA Women's Super League (WSL) season starts on Sunday with Arsenal LFC hoping to keep up a monopoly on the trophy and indeed make it ten English titles in a row.
However, competition will come not only from last year's runners-up Birmingham City LFC and perennial challengers Everton LFC, but also from two teams that have made ambitious signings this winter – Liverpool LFC and Chelsea LFC. With former Arsenal assistant Emma Hayes at the Chelsea helm after a spell in the United States, the Blues have added England attacker Eniola Aluko, Sweden striker Sofia Jakobsson, Iceland duo Ólína Gudbjörg Vidarsdóttir and Edda Gardarsdóttir, and – revealed on Tuesday – Brazil midfielder Ester. UEFA.com spoke to Hayes about their aspirations as Chelsea prepare to open the campaign against Birmingham this weekend.
UEFA.com: What attracted you back to England and to here, Chelsea?
Emma Hayes: Well, London is home for me. I had a great career in the US and I enjoyed it out there, but the lure of coming to a big club like Chelsea was just too good to turn down. The club wanting to build women's football and its profile was something I wanted to be part of.
UEFA.com: What did you learn in your time in America?
Hayes: Well, how to handle the very best players in the very best competition. WPS [Women's Professional Soccer] as a league was very competitive and had a range of internationals, so learning to manage them and their needs day in, day out made me a stronger coach. I think the experience as a result of that, [I can] come back and offer it to a club like Chelsea and use it to our advantage and push on to compete for silverware.
UEFA.com: You have made some signings yourself, that shows your ambitions …
Hayes: Yes, but like I said, part of the remit for Chelsea Football Club is that they want to create a more competitive environment, so we want to improve the squad with international players that have the calibre to compete in a tournament like the [UEFA Women's] Champions League. So for us that's our aspiration. But this season domestically we want to just push on and improve our performances on the pitch – and raise expectations off it.
UEFA.com: And I guess Eni Aluko provides experience and talent as well?
Hayes: What a wonderful player to build a team around. She has been there, she has done it, she has played at the top level, she is a person I admire a lot, and she is really excited to kick off the campaign and become a top player for Chelsea. I hope she puts the ball in the back of the net quite a few times for us.
UEFA.com: Stamford Bridge will stage the UEFA Women's Champions League final on 23 May (buy tickets now) – is that an inspiration for your players as you try to seal a European debut for 2014/15?
Hayes: What a great day it will be. I just think of the players at Chelsea, and our young centre of excellence girls, coming along and looking at players at the very top level looking to pick up a Champions League trophy. And for us at Chelsea it will be a great day. I'm sure we will pack the stands full of players aspiring to be in this competition one day. It will be mandatory that every Chelsea player will be here in full attendance, and I really want the girls to experience what it is like to play in a competition of this magnitude. And looking at the trophy reminds me of winning it [as Arsenal assistant in 2007], but also how I'd love to be part of a team that does it again.
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