Chelsea manager Emma Hayes has criticised the Women’s Super League schedule for not giving English sides the best chance of success in Europe.
Chelsea were held to a 2-2 draw by Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday, with the game kicking off at 8pm. They returned home in the early hours of Thursday morning, before facing Liverpool in the WSL at 1:30pm on Saturday.
Chelsea are the only remaining English side in this season’s Champions League and Hayes called on the Football Association to give WSL teams the best chance of progressing in the competition by considering player welfare when scheduling fixtures.
Hayes also called out broadcasters and league organisers for not understanding “the dangers” on players and believes it is a fundamental player welfare issue.
Her comments echo those made by Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall last season, who said his side and Chelsea’s Champions League progress had come “despite” the WSL schedule.
“Of course I’m going to hammer TV and the league today because I feel like nobody really understands how hard that is to do,” the Chelsea manager said. “I feel like we’re the only team in Europe, and yet we’re the only association that doesn’t help its team in Europe. Spain do, France do, Germany do but we don’t.
“That for me is disappointing, working against ourselves, because there is a rule in place that says we can put a TV game on at 1.30pm on a Saturday because there are two days between games. They’re not factoring in the fact that we’re getting in at 4.30am.
“Why are we getting in at 4am? Because they’re still drug testing so you can’t leave early because people don’t pee quickly after games. So there’s never really two full days.
“You’re like a zombie on that first day, and the second day is about just getting the legs moving. I accept it is coming up again in December. We play Hacken, Bristol (City), Hacken, three in six games.
“All I’m asking is: don’t we want an English team to try and progress in Europe? It’s hard enough. The rest of Europe look at us and think: ‘their league doesn’t even help them’. Jonas made this point last year. It’s something we should seriously look at. I can’t change it because broadcasting say there’s two days in between therefore get on with it.
“Don’t you think it’s a little bizarre that we’re the only team that’s played on Wednesday and we’re the first team to play on Saturday, having played Sunday night away from home last week?”
Chelsea captain Millie Bright was missing from the squad for Saturday’s 5-1 win over Liverpool and Hayes confirmed this was to manage load given the congested fixture schedule, not due to injury, as her side prepare to face Paris FC in the Champions League on Thursday.
“Because the three (games) in six days, she’s not injured,” Hayes added. “She’ll be back on Thursday. We took a decision from a loading perspective, particularly with the (knee) surgery she had pre-World Cup and then played a World Cup and then had two weeks off… been playing, playing, playing and now she’s playing again.
“I took the decision to offload her from her knee. She doesn’t like it. She wants to running around out there but I have to protect her against herself today.”
A new WSL broadcast deal will be in place ahead of the 2024-25 season, with negotiations ongoing. The Chelsea manager said player welfare should be taken into account as part of discussions.
“Most people can say it happens in the men’s game — it does,” she added. “Broadcasters, and league organisers don’t really understand it. They don’t understand the dangers for some players.
“Take Millie Bright for example, I could play her in the game today, but at what cost? Then all of a sudden, England needs to qualify for the Olympics in a week’s time and everyone could give us criticism on that.
“It’s not about Chelsea, it’s about player welfare. And I think, in an ideal world, those (groups) making those decisions, (should include) former players, former athletes in that decision-making process as they really appreciate that. It’s not as easy as everybody thinks.
“I don’t care how they do it. I don’t know what the rules are within that. I’m just asking to think about player welfare, men’s and women’s football.”
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(Photo: Angel Martinez/Getty Images)