Hayes' top five signings as Chelsea boss


Across a managerial reign spanning almost 14 years at Chelsea, Emma Hayes has delivered success on the pitch and been a key personality in driving change off it.

She has signed and developed some of the best homegrown talent while pulling off transfer coups with impactful foreign imports in recent years.

Former Chelsea midfielder and Sky Sports pundit, Karen Carney discusses Hayes’ top five signings at the club ahead of the manager’s departure for America this summer.

No 5: Crystal Dunn (Chelsea 2017-18)

Honours: Helped Chelsea win Spring Series and reach Champions League quarter-finals for first time

When Crystal came, it was a really good move for the club and player. She was incredible in the dressing room bringing her energy and on the pitch she brought positivity, work-rate and competitiveness to the team.

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Karen Carney gives her top five signings at Chelsea under Emma Hayes, as she gives her first three from Nos 5 to 3!

She came in as a centre-forward and was quickly converted to a left wing-back. In the time she was there, we went on to win the Spring Season. So I think the signing of her calibre and the impact she had to the squad is what made her a key signing.

Crystal made such an impact in the dressing room. Americans do bring that. I’ve played in the States myself, but she came in and was mainly super competitive and that raised everyone’s levels about what it took to be a winner.

It was beneficial for her, especially as she came in as a striker, converted to a wing-back and then went back to America and won the World Cup as a left-back. It was a great signing for both.

Crystal Dunn made a big impact in the Chelsea dressing room
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Crystal Dunn made a big impact in the Chelsea dressing room

No 4: Magdalena Eriksson (Chelsea 2017-2023)

Honours: Five WSL titles, four FA Cups, Two League Cups, one Community Shield

Magda was similar to Crystal in terms of the attitude and the application. I sometimes didn’t always see eye-to-eye with her because she was always on it and sometimes you just want to chill a little bit! But that was her winning mentality.

They say pick players you are willing to go to war with or you trust, and for me, Magda is that person. She went on to mature into such a significant leader at Chelsea and I think the team have massively missed her this year and her leadership.

As a left-sided centre-back, it’s rare you get that left-sided balance. She offered strength, physicality and hard-work – you had no excuses as a group not to work hard and she kept you honest as a player.

Emma Hayes
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Chelsea manager Emma Hayes with Millie Bright (left) and Magdalena Eriksson after winning the WSL title in 2023

No 3: Millie Bright (Chelsea 2014-today)

Honours: 6 x WSL titles, 4 x FA Cups, 2 x League Cups, 1 x Community Shield and Champions League runners-up

Millie and Magda were like the Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand centre-back pairing of men’s football if people haven’t seen Magda and Millie play together.

Millie’s a brick wall. Similar to the other two players I’ve picked, it’s her mentality, attitude in training, to always be the best, to improve, to always want to do more and outwork anyone. Her demands and standards have always been high.

She came to Chelsea as a central midfielder from Doncaster. She wasn’t a marquee signing but what she did was graft, work hard, apply herself, and got better and better. She has turned into one of the best centre-backs in the world.

Millie’s the captain, Emma moves on but she’s going to have to keep those standards high, and keep what it means to be a Chelsea player. Those foundations that Millie brings, not just to Chelsea but to England, that attitude, that desire, you can’t train that. She can bring that out in other people but I think that’s something special in her.

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Watch highlights of the WSL clash between Chelsea and Liverpool at Prenton Park

No 2: Sam Kerr (Chelsea 2020-today)

Honours: 4 x WSL titles, 3 x FA Cups, 3 x League Cups, 1 x Community Shield, Champions League runners-up

She’s been the difference at times when Chelsea need a last-minute winner or that threat of running behind ahead of the cross and her strength. She’s become so clinical, so reliable, so consistent.

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Karen Carney gives her top five signings at Chelsea under Emma Hayes as she goes on to now reveal her second and first place!

I didn’t train with her, but I hear a lot of good things about her, her attitude, her training, her desire. You always feel that with Sam on the pitch, if it’s 1-1 and she got the chance, she’d win you the game.

Sam was highly-sought after. She was a massive coup for the league and for Chelsea and I’m sure it took a lot of hard work and effort in terms of recruiting her. It sent out a message to Europe and the world.

She’s been an unbelievable player, not only for Chelsea but for the league and another player who Chelsea have massively missed this year [she suffered an ACL injury in January]. She was my No 2 because you could rely on her in the difficult moments on the pitch.

Sam Kerr
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Sam Kerr has been prolific for Chelsea since her WSL arrival

No 1: Ji So-yun (Chelsea 2014-22)

Honours: 6 x WSL titles, 4 x FA Cups, 2 x League Cups, 1 x Community Shield

The reason why I picked Ji, is because in my mind she was the first big overseas player to the league. She brought the wow factor.

What the WSL had was a certain style and I think Ji brought in a different style and brought in her personality. I think it said: ‘if Chelsea can get Ji, other teams can go and recruit overseas players of high calibre’.

Ji So-yun celebrates winning the FA Cup with Chelsea in 2022
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Ji So-yun celebrates winning the FA Cup with Chelsea in 2022

I don’t think Ji got the credit for how good she actually was. If you were in training and she was on your team, you’d win. For someone so petite, she was so strong. She was technically gifted and ahead of the game.

She could get away with murder with Emma as well. Literally the only player who could move training or speak cheeky to her or get away with it. She used to swear a lot and say ‘manager, this is not good’ (but swear with it), and you’d think, ‘yeah she’s right’ and that for me meant we got better standards.

I remember once I went in to see Emma and said ‘we’ve got training on New Year’s Day and the group wants to know if we can come in a bit later?’ She went ‘no, get out’.

I went back and said ‘sorry guys’. As a captain, you feel like a failure. And then it might have been at lunchtime and Ji shouted ‘manager, I want to go and see the fireworks in London’ and Emma would say ‘right’. And Ji said: ‘I’ve got to get the train, got to get my eight hours [sleep], you want us in early and I want to stay until the end’ and Emma said: what do you want?’ and she said: I want training to be later and she went ‘OK, what time do you want training?’ and Ji dictated the training!

They had a really good relationship. Emma likes that cheeky personality, a bit different. That’s probably why she recruited her and other players. They are different, they play differently, think different and bring so much diversity to your team.

Chelsea haven’t replaced a midfielder like Ji because she could solve so many things. She was so gifted and a joy to be around.

The ones just missing out…

I feel awful for not picking Katie Chapman. Katie and the signings of Eni Aluko, Gemma Davison, Niamh Fahey were crucial for Chelsea winning the first league title under Emma.

Katie Chapman with the 2015 WSL title Chelsea won for the first time under Emma Hayes, and her three sons
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Katie Chapman with the 2015 WSL title Chelsea won for the first time under Emma Hayes, and her three sons

Katie had an unbelievable mentality, would play with fractures, her work-rate, her pain threshold, a mother as well. I feel horrendous for not picking her, she epitomises so many great things. Eni, meanwhile, was someone I grew up with and was instrumental in that first title win for Chelsea.

Watch the WSL title finale live on Sky Sports this Saturday from 2pm

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