Emma Hayes revealed that Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich visited her team’s dressing room to commiserate with the players following their dismembering by Barcelona in Sunday night’s Champions League final in Gothenburg.
“Our owner came in to see us and all the girls were very quick to say we’d be back here,” said Chelsea’s manager in the wake of a chastening 4-0 defeat which saw Melanie Leupolz score an own goal for the English champions inside 36 seconds. “We’ll work hard on the training ground to make sure we do that. I’m just gutted we didn’t have the chance to make a game of it. We’ve had a wonderful season but, at times, we were a bit naive.
“I was gutted that, after 40 minutes we were 4-0 down because, for me as a coach, it then became impossible. It’s a difficult place to be. I did my best, I tried to change a few things just to give us a little bit of momentum but it wasn’t to be It will be difficult for the players, when they reflect on it.”
Hayes admitted she had not expected her Women’s Super League title holders to have been quite so badly afflicted by stage fright during the first half. “I didn’t sense nerves but, clearly, they were there,” she acknowledged. “We prepared as best we could and I was really looking forward to the game but some of these players haven’t played in this arena before and it showed. This is a disappointment but I thought we gave it everything in the second half. At least we showed the character we’ve got.”
Typically Chelsea’s manager then addressed the bigger picture. “We’re the second best team in Europe,” she pointed out. “We’re not quite European Champions yet but I’ll take this as a step in the right direction.
“But Barcelona were extremely clinical and we conceded too early. Their experience counted. They were exceptional in both boxes and their early goals really took a lot out of my team. The disappointment in the dressing room will be that it was all over before it began.”
It was too little to late but Hayes took heart from Chelsea’s significant second-half improvement. “At half time I asked them to treat the game as 0-0,” she said before praising her players’ post match reaction. “The mood now is the mode you’d expect from a team that not used to losing. But we’re a classy team and we behave as I think you should when you’ve been beaten by a better team.
“That involves acknowledging what we need to do to improve and I know this group well enough that I know they mean those words to the owner (about coming back to the final).”
Chelsea’s England defender, Millie Bright, proved magnanimous in defeat. “It’s a massive learning curve but we’re proud of our journey and what we’ve achieved,” she said. “Barcelona had four chances in the first half and scored four goals. It didn’t go our way but congratulations to Barcelona – they’re an unbelievable team. We didn’t come here to be second best but at least in the second half we showed our true colours and great character. We represented the base. We’ll be back better next time. But there’s a lot to learn.”
Lluís Cortés, Barcelona’s manager, was suitably proud. “My idea was to show these girls that, some day, if you want it you can reach this level,” he said. “That’s something that I’m very proud of. We started, right from the beginning, with confidence. We didn’t feel as much pressure as we did in other games. The final is to be won, and that’s what we did. We’ve been writing history and tonight it’s the whole of Spanish women’s football history that wins, not just us. To be the first to reach the final and win it is fantastic for us.”