We’ve all been there, sat around the table dreading the moment when it is your turn to roll the dice. You wait at Piccadilly Circus. You start looking ahead. There is only one Chance, a very small chance. You might even get away with landing on a station. Sod it, roll a one – even jail looks better than this. What lies ahead is a barrage of properties stretching on for what seems like eternity. From Bond Street to Mayfair, the priciest of the bunch are stacked with handfuls of red and green plastic. You stare despondently at your funds. It’s not looking good. This is going to be embarrassing, potentially tear-inducing, but it is either that or storm out Piers-Morgan style. Best suck it up and get it over with. And that is what I imagine it feels like to play against Chelsea this season.
It is like Hayes has been playing FIFA Ultimate Team, only without the fireworks and having to sift through the shit at the beginning.
Traditionally in women’s football it was always Arsenal who were considered the English heavyweights, yet Chelsea have always been thereabouts. After their first WSL title in 2015, the Blues have asserted themselves as the ones to beat. Joint with the Gunners, they have equalled the record for most WSL titles (three) and this year, they have the quadruple in their sights – not that anyone at the club would be brave enough to admit it.
Since her appointment in 2012, just one year after the inaugural WSL season, Emma Hayes has been engraving her charming authority on the women’s top-flight whilst building her blue and white empire. Recent recruitment has seen the highly anticipated arrival of Pernille Harder – voted the Guardian’s ‘Best Female Footballer in the World’ (2018 and 2020) – for a world record fee of £300,000. Having scored 105 goals in 116 games for Wolfsburg, the Dane is already living up to expectations with seven goals and three assists in her first sixteen appearances. What makes things even Harder for opponents is that Hayes has managed to bring Aussie icon Sam Kerr to the club, four-time recipient of the PFA Player of the Year award, adding to her already star-studded strike-force. Former Bayern Munich captain Melanie Leupolz and highly rated Norwegian Guro Reiten also join the list of luxury players. And let’s not forget about the existing superstars that Hayes has been working with prior to this year – the likes of Eriksson, Ji So-yun, Kirby, Cuthbert and, of course, relentless goal-scorer and last year’s PFA Player of the Year, Beth England. It is like Hayes has been playing FIFA Ultimate Team, only without the fireworks and having to sift through the shit at the beginning.
Until narrowly losing out to Brighton last month, Chelsea went thirty-three games unbeaten in the WSL and, with this squad, it is easy to see why. They come up trumps in most of their games, and location seems to make little difference; they have earned twenty-one points at Kingsmeadow and have taken twenty points away from home this season. They score an average of three goals-per-game, have a positive goal-difference of +41, and have already seen off Arsenal 3-0, Bristol City and Reading 5-0 as well as Tottenham and Villa 4-0 respectively. Hayes has even been tipped for a job at AFC Wimbledon and was previously rumoured to fulfil Lampard’s golden boots at her current club. While it is only right that Hayes ought to have an equal opportunity to manage in the men’s game, why would she want to? She is still in for a chance of winning four trophies as her team, the reigning Champions, currently sit in top spot with all to play for.
Just two points behind, however, are Manchester City – a team whose recent rise to prominence (in both the men’s and women’s game) mirrors that of Chelsea’s journey and the state of world football more generally. With big name acquisitions and high-quality facilities, City have equally thrown cash around like it is Monopoly money which has propelled them into the same discussions alongside Chelsea, Arsenal, and even Manchester United of late. Having progressed into the quarter finals of the Champions League this week, both sides are aiming even higher, looking beyond domestic silverware, intent on securing European dominance and becoming an English Lyon.
Watching your team winning games and playing attacking football is what we all want to see, but at what cost? (Literally, what cost?). In City and Chelsea, these two superpowers have somewhat paid for their recent success – which one can easily find fault with, especially given the disparity of talent and the distribution of wealth in the WSL. Yet, one can argue that seeing the world’s elite playing in England is a step in the right direction for a competition that lacks recognition and funding, as it desperately (and quite rightly) tries to remove itself from the shadow of the men’s game.