Is Women’s Football shown sufficient respect in the modern era?

With International Women’s Day coming up on Monday 8th March, I thought I’d take a look at a recent debate in women’s football that has generated a reasonable amount of controversy, albeit largely unnecessarily. The manager of Chelsea Women, Emma Hayes, was reported as having stated that being offered the managerial reins at AFC Wimbledon, an EFL Club, currently in the men’s third tier, was an “insult”.

When her statement was heard in full, it was clear that this was an exaggeration, misrepresentative of the message Hayes was attempting to convey, designed by members of the media solely to attract readers with a controversial headline. Hayes has since clarified that AFC Wimbledon are “a wonderful club” and her comments were instead directed at the notion that women’s football is a step down from the men’s game.

Hayes has been one of the most successful managers in the women’s game in recent times, having won three FA Women’s Super League titles with Chelsea. Therefore, it is understandable as to why she was surprised that a significant number of people thought that she should jump at the opportunity to manage a men’s side that were a non-league team, just a decade ago.

Loyalty is a rare thing in football and if a manager at a men’s club were to be offered a job while entering their 9th year at their current club – the length of time that Hayes has been at Chelsea – then there would likely be questions asked if the manager would want to leave their beloved team. Even more so if they had been very successful in their job, say if they had set a league record of unbeaten matches; just another of Hayes’ achievements. Yet when the rumours of a chance to manage AFC Wimbledon came up, it was as if everyone just assumed that, given the chance, Hayes would leave Chelsea without a second thought.

Admittedly, I believe that some of this may have stemmed from genuine excitement at the prospect of a female manager taking charge in the EFL, which, when it happens, will be a historic moment for football. However, the main reason behind this reaction is simple; there is still a lack of respect for the women’s game. The notion that any decision for Hayes was straightforward disrespected her, the achievements of her players, Chelsea Women Football Club and women’s football in general.

Granted, Hayes could have used the role to work herself up to a position in men’s football where she could have earned far more money than she will ever make in the women’s game. However, life is not all about money. Women’s football is growing and Hayes quite rightly wants to be a big part in that continuing.

Would I have liked to have seen Hayes managing in the men’s game? Absolutely, I am a big proponent of the need for greater diversity in the dugout and would really want the first female manager in English professional football history to be a great success. I can think of no one better than Hayes to have delivered on this remit.

However, when the day comes that a female manager makes the transition from women’s football to men’s football – and I believe it will – it will be a difficult decision for them to leave their post. Ironically, it may only be after a female manager has success in the men’s game that women’s football earns the respect that it truly deserves.

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Luke Saward

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January 2022
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