Welcome to Al Jazeera’s Sport Weekly newsletter, which explores the intersection of sport with politics, culture and money. You can sign up here.
The United States women’s national team (USWNT) went into this year’s World Cup looking like almost unstoppable favourites to do an unprecedented “three-peat” and claim their third consecutive title.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Instead, a team of ageing stars and raw rookies failed to click and crashed out in the last 16 with a defeat to Sweden on penalties. Their coach subsequently resigned.
US Soccer has tasked Chelsea boss Emma Hayes with the rebuild, and this week, Al Jazeera spoke to several experts to find out what makes the 47-year-old coach so special, the challenges she faces and how the move continues her trailblazing path in the women’s game.
Since becoming Chelsea’s manager in 2012, Hayes has made the London side the dominant force in English women’s football, winning the last four Women’s Super League titles in a row.
Before she went to Chelsea, she had some experience of working in US women’s football.
Sportswriter Jeff Kassouf said Hayes is well positioned as someone familiar with US football but something of an “outsider” at a time when the team needs fresh thinking.
“Hayes has proven herself to be one of the best managers in the world. She is unafraid of failure in the short term if it means finding the right long-term answers, as she has shown with her tactical flexibility at Chelsea,” Kassouf told Al Jazeera.
“The USWNT needs that more than ever. The Americans have recently looked rigid and almost afraid of improvisation, which is needed in big games.”
Hayes won’t officially take the reins until the end of the domestic season, just two months before the USWNT plays in the 2024 Paris Olympics.
But several observers said her people skills, her flexibility and her boldness in taking big decisions should set her up well.
Brandi Chastain, a two-time world champion with the US, told Al Jazeera that Hayes will be a “breath of fresh air” and is reportedly a stickler for how she wants the game to be played – generally fast and direct.
“I think it will be a great challenge for the players. I don’t know if they’ve been challenged outside of their comfort zones in a long time,” she said.
Hayes has done much to raise the standards and appeal of women’s football – promoting the game, advocating for increased prize money, pushing for games in bigger stadiums, and prioritising recovery and the needs of her players.
The terms of her USNWT appointment are also ground-breaking for the women’s game.
US Soccer announced she will become the highest paid women’s football coach in the world. Although the governing body did not reveal details about her salary, she will reportedly receive pay parity with the US men’s national team coach, Gregg Berhalter.
Chastain said the move could have a ripple effect that pushes other countries to tackle the many rife disparities that exist between the men’s and women’s games.
“I do believe that every country or governing body will have to take note and sit up and say, ‘OK, this matters. We can’t pretend like women’s football isn’t viable, isn’t important or doesn’t meet the standard of our men’s side.’”