Emma Hayes refused to be drawn on reports linking her with the USA Women’s national team as she explained the reasons for her decision to leave Chelsea at the end of this season.
It is understood Hayes is in talks with US Soccer and is the preferred candidate to be the new head coach of their women’s national team.
However, the 47-year-old said “I’m not going to comment on that,” when asked about the vacancy and insisted her focus and commitment remains with Chelsea until the end of her tenure.
Hayes says her decision to leave the club she first joined in August 2012 is based on a desire to spend more time with her five-year-old son, go out at the top of the game and seek “something different”.
She also made it clear she would be working closely with Chelsea about who her successor will be.
“I’ve been in post for 12 years and dedicated my life to this place.,” Hayes said at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground. “I drive four hours every day, six days a week, for 12 years.
“I have a five-year-old that needs more of his mummy, for sure. Family matters. That’s important. I’ve dedicated as much as I can to this club, I’ve loved every minute and I think it’s important, if possible, to create a succession plan – like me and [general manager] Paul [Green] do with the players.
“The time is right. I will work with the club and do everything I can to make sure there is as good a transition as possible so my successor can have as much as success as I have.”
Asked if it had been an emotional week, Hayes said: “Yes, really. It’s a day I never wanted to see come but I feel like I have to put myself first. You dedicate so many hours to this job and I’ve given it everything I can.
“It’s easy to say it’s about work-life balance. But maybe it’s about having something different more than anything else. I’ve taken this team to the top and always said I wanted to leave at the top and I maintain that’s what I want to do. I’d struggle going backwards or outstaying my welcome.
“It’s not easy to leave at the top, having a world class team, but it’s something I made a promise to myself I’d do.”
There have also been reports that delays to contract extension talks between Hayes and Chelsea sporting director Paul Winstanley impacted her exit but Hayes said she wouldn’t be discussing that issue in public.
“It’s fair to say, I believe in private conversations,” she said. “I’m disappointed to hear things being said in the press but I want to make sure I maintain my own professionalism. I have a team to focus on, games to win and don’t think anything will come between me and players and fans.
“This is my club, it will always be my club and while I’m sad on many levels, I’ve always said to the fans there will come that moment when I’m sat with them in the crowd and I look forward to that come the end of season. Now the focus is on the game, we had the most unbelievable training session today and the players are committed with me to make sure we insure our position.”
Hayes on her legacy: We’ve applied pressure and raised standards in the women’s game
Under Hayes’ leadership, Chelsea have won six FA WSL titles, five Women’s FA Cups, two FA Women’s League Cups, one FA Women’s Spring Series trophy and one FA Women’s Community Shield.
She has also been at the forefront of the revolution in the women’s game, which has seen its profile increase significantly in recent years.
Reflecting on this element of her legacy, Hayes said this has been an important element of her role.
“Collectively we’ve applied pressure and challenged and raised standards,” she said. “Everyone who works for me or with me knows I’ve only had the game’s best interest at heart.
“I love the women’s game, I’m so grateful for opportunities I’ve been given. I’m not afraid to do tough things, even if sometimes I’m the one who takes a battering for it. But I’m OK with that because if I see scores of girls up and down the country getting more prize money, better facilities…
“I still don’t think there’s enough in place in terms of minimum standards but I’ve played my part and I’m grateful for all the people who have done the same.”
Analysis: Hayes a pioneer in English women’s football
Sky Sports’ Charlotte Marsh:
“It is unusual for a manager to announce their departure from a club so early in the season – but Emma Hayes has always broken the mould.
“And in a lot of ways, seven months is needed to try and comprehend just how big of an impact Hayes has not only had at Chelsea, but across women’s football in England as a whole.
“Her numbers for the Blues speak for themselves – trophies upon records upon titles. And wouldn’t it be the end to the fairy tale if she bowed out by winning the club their first Champions League title?
“By transforming Chelsea into the women’s powerhouse they are, Hayes has championed and pioneered the standards that the entire game is now being held to.
“Player health across the board, facilities, training methods, staffing, transfers – you can see Hayes’ influence in each area. Women’s football would simply not be where it is without her lighting the way.
“She has been at the forefront of the growth of women’s football, a voice others turn to for opinion and direction on the biggest issues facing not only the game, but women overall.
“Hayes too has shown that this can all be achieved as a mother, as someone who battles against health issues and personal loss just like us all. None of it has impacted her ability to do her job successfully and reflects the human element that can sometimes be missing in football.
“Her rumoured move to the USA offers her a new challenge and one that will be incredibly exciting to watch unfold.
“But for now, the tributes and goodbyes will come flooding in over the coming months and rightly so. Chelsea and women’s football have a lot to thank Hayes for.”
Who do Chelsea play next?
Chelsea are back in action with a trip to Everton on Sunday, kick-off 1pm. Their Champions League campaign then kicks off, when they head to the continent to face Real Madrid on November 15, kick-off 8pm.