Emma Hayes has been showing her Chelsea team films of geese flying in V formation and, by way of proving the point, does a decent impression of the birds honking encouragement to each other. Quite apart from enlivening a Zoom-enabled media address, the manager can think of no better way to limber up for Sunday’s Women’s Super League title denouement than reminding her formidable squad about the importance of teamwork.
“I’ve shown the players geese videos,” says Hayes whose WSL leaders are two points clear of Manchester City before their final game at home to Reading. “I’ve shown them why geese fly in V formation, what everybody’s role is, how geese support each other and, most importantly, why you fly further together. That’s the bottom line. Geese wouldn’t be able to migrate to the sun without all travelling together. It’s the same for us.”
Although Chelsea’s goal difference is slightly superior to that of Gareth Taylor’s side – who visit West Ham – Hayes is adamant victory remains imperative. A win on Sunday will not merely guarantee a second successive title but serve as an ideal warm up for next Sunday’s Women’s Champions League final against Barcelona.
Among the reasons Chelsea are soaring is that Hayes’s band of internationals is studded with not only natural leaders but players capable of ensuring that leading roles on the pitch are regularly rotated.
Geese take turns to head the V and by bearing the brunt of the wind resistance, make life easier for those flying behind. In a similar vein, Chelsea have relied on assorted individuals including the forwards Fran Kirby and Sam Kerr, the defender Magda Eriksson and the goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger to do the heavy lifting at various points this season.
“Sometimes different people take the lead but ultimately, to get where we want to go, everyone has to play a part,” says Hayes. “With geese, the front runner takes the wind resistance, making those behind more energy efficient. Then, depending on energy levels, you take turns to change position. The honking gees each other up, it’s encouragement.
“It’s important different geese lead the formation at different times and take the wind resistance for the rest. Changing leaders is something that’s pretty normal in our environment and, as with geese, everyone’s always extremely loyal to the cause.”
Bethany England, Chelsea’s player of the season last year, may have been reduced to comparative bit-part status this term, but Hayes believes the England striker could soon be leading from the front once again.
“Beth’s had some setbacks but she’s crucial to us; Beth was the single defining reason why we won the double last year,” Hayes says. “I know that, in this last part of the season, she could have a huge role in pushing the team over the line.”
She has similar words for the little used midfielder, Drew Spence. “Drew’s never been more important to us,” Hayes says. “She’s a voice of dressing room reason.
“Geese always support each other. When a goose gets injured two birds always accompany it down to the ground. Just as geese do, we must support each other. My message to the players is honk hard at the person in front. In goose culture, that makes them speed up.”
Hayes believes “the only psychologist in the dressing room is the coach” but anger very rarely features in a mental toolbox big on emotional intelligence. “Emma’s a very rational, original, human being and she’s also very warm,” says Eriksson. “She understands how to deal with us. She’ll let us know if she doesn’t think it’s good enough. But Emma’s not an angry person. She reads situations and, if we need to be more motivated, or be calmer, she gives us what we need.”
Chelsea’s manager has warned Eriksson and company to be wary of one Reading player in particular. England’s most-capped international, 37-year-old Fara Williams, will be playing her final game in midfield before retirement.
“I know Fara’s a Chelsea fan and it’s fitting that she finishes her career at the club where she started it,” says Hayes. “Fara will be an outstanding coach. She’s got a great football mind, a great understanding of tactics. I admire her immensely.”