Different but Talented Squads Set to Battle It Out as FA WSL Returns

You’d be hard pushed to find three more different coaches than Emma Hayes, Nick Cushing, and Pedro Losa. The managers of Chelsea Ladies, Manchester City, and Arsenal, respectively, have all seen success during their fledgling coaching careers, and the trio are set to fight it out for top honors once again when the FA Women’s Super League returns on Friday night.

It will be the third full season they have faced off against each other, Hayes taking the spoils in 2015 with Chelsea before Cushing took their title away a year later. Chelsea took the Spring Series bragging rights, while Losa has had to settle for success in the cups, winning both a Continental Cup and an FA Cup, the latter at Chelsea’s expense.

Hayes also has an FA Cup to her name, as now does Cushing, who has also won two Continental Cups in Manchester City’s brief history as a professional side. The one thing they all have in common: They’re all ”Students of the Game.” None of them played professionally, none of them really ever had playing careers at all.

Losa has always been a coach. Cushing played for Vauxhall Motors and Capenhurst Villa in the West Cheshire League close to where he grew up. A severe ankle injury for Hayes ended her playing career when she was just a teenager.

Their paths since show their differences: all fantastic coaches and managers in their own right and all honing their talents in different parts of the world.

Nick Cushing

Cushing, the youngest of the three at just 32, has always been close to Manchester. Born in Chester, the City manager has never been one for the media spotlight.

He’s polite, courteous, rarely controversial — seemingly just happy to get out of the stadium and return to his wife and children when the job is done. He builds his squad around people, not just players. He has an admirable, almost stubborn faith in young, British players, refusing largely to entertain the idea of big-name signings, bar the recent loan of Carli Lloyd from the United States.

Given his career so far, it’s hardly a surprise. Though he was a complete unknown at the time, Cushing worked at Manchester City for roughly a decade before taking over the women’s team in 2013. In various roles, he spent thousands of hours on the training pitch, plying his trade and coaching as far down as the U-5 and U-6 teams, so it’s hardly a surprise he puts his faith in youth.

Building his first squad around the foursome of Steph Houghton, Toni Duggan, Karen Bardsley, and Jill Scott, Cushing gets a kick out of development. Demi Stokes has become a top-class left back since finishing her university course in America while Lucy Bronze has gone on to become the most coveted full back in world football.

Keira Walsh and Georgia Stanway were both pried away from Blackburn’s academy and Scotland sensation Claire Emslie is his latest young star. His philosophy is bold, and given the direction his rivals have gone this year, it’s a riskier one than ever. He has a smaller squad than his rivals, and perhaps also now lacks the outright quality and depth, despite the fact more youngsters like Ella Toone, Serena Fletcher, and Esme Morgan will gain valuable experience this season.

Emma Hayes

Hayes, on the other end, is one of the most determined coaches in the world and a current nominee for the FIFA Coach of the Year award. Respected by anyone who has worked with her, the 40-year-old from Camden was dubbed the “Female José Mourinho” on her way to guiding Chelsea to their inaugural FA WSL title in 2015.

Singing in the Austrian hills during preseason tours shows the lighter side of the Chelsea boss, but she’s also brutally honest. Whether it’s about her own team, her opponents, or the state of the league, its pitches, its schedule, or its officials. Hayes’s passion for her sport shines through in every interview, every sound-bite reveals a coach hell-bent on not just success but also raising the standards across the board in the women’s game.

When injury put pay to any potential playing career, Hayes turned to coaching. She graduated from Liverpool Hope University in 1999 and two years later took on her first managerial role, coaching the Long Island Lady Riders in the U.S. — a side her current player, Crystal Dunn, would go on to play for several years later.

Such was the impact made in America, Vic Akers recruited her as the assistant manager for the all-conquering Arsenal Ladies side of the mid-noughties. But Hayes is driven; winning came too easy and the London-born coach wanted a new challenge.

Hayes returned to the U.S. with Chicago Red Stars of Women’s Professional Soccer, before Chelsea came calling in 2012. After a difficult first year, Hayes slowly put together a squad capable of challenging the supremacy of Arsenal and Liverpool.

More financial support allowed Hayes to build a team that took Liverpool and Birmingham City to the final day of the 2014 season, only to be denied by defeat to newcomers Manchester City, led by Cushing.

The likes of Eni Aluko, Katie Chapman, Claire Rafferty and Gilly Flaherty, plus Asian stars Yuki Ogimi and Ji So-Yun, became vital parts of a squad ready to challenge for top honors. But like Cushing, Hayes has been willing to invest time in her British youngsters.

Players like Laura Coombs, Rosella Ayane, and Jodie Brett all played their fair share of matches, and their title-winning side of 2015 was built largely on a core of British stars, Fran Kirby would soon arrive as the hottest property in English football from Reading after the World Cup in Canada.

Hayes could now be described as having a philosophy somewhere in the middle of her two rivals. Losa’s continental background has made him prone to European signings, while Cushing has rarely moved away from his beliefs in how to build a squad.

But Chelsea and Hayes are now going down a new road. While the likes of Aluko, Chapman, Flaherty, and Rafferty remain, plus Hannah Blundell, Drew Spence, Gemma Davison, and Karen Carney, there appears to be the beginning of a new era unfolding at the club happening.

A move to a new stadium and the gradual building of new training facilities has been met full in the face with an influx of world-class talent from not just Europe but beyond. U.S. star Crystal Dunn was the biggest catch of the winter window, and Ramona Bachmann and Maren Mjelde both joined the club as well.

This summer, Swedish defender Magdalena Eriksson and Norway’s Maria Thorisdóttir have also arrived, but Hayes has also unearthed a couple of gems in Erin Cuthbert and Deanna Cooper, the latter cruelly ruled out for the new season with an ACL injury.

Pedro Losa

One look at Pedro Losa’s squad tells you all you need to know about his footballing background — an eclectic mix of exciting young talent and burgeoning experience from around the world: Dutch, German, American, and Swedish all make up vital parts of Losa’s squad for the new campaign.

Coaching the youth sides of a local Madrid side by the name of Pozuelo de Alarcón, Losa worked his way up the ranks before he took control of the women’s team, either side of a brief spell working with the youth teams at Atlético Madrid.

His good work saw him earn the job of Rayo Vallecano manager in 2008, and success was immediate. Helping to progress the careers of players such as Sonia Bermúdez and Jennifer Hermoso, Losa won the Copa de la Reina de Fútbol in his first season, beating Levante, 3-2, in the final.

Rayo went on to become the most dominant Spanish side over the course of the next three season, winning the league three times in a row before a change in structure saw Atlético and Barcelona take control.

Losa sought a new challenge, becoming the assistant at National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) side Western New York Flash, where the team reached the final in his first year at the club, coming out on the wrong end of a thrilling finale against the Portland Thorns FC.

In 2014, Arsenal saw enough in Losa to hire him as Shelley Kerr’s replacement, and it’s not just the nationalities at Arsenal that are different now — there are as many players well into their thirties as there are talented teenagers. Heather O’Reilly’s arrival caused a stir in the winter, while club captain Alex Scott is one of the most experienced players left in the game.

Then there’s 20-year-old Leah Williamson, 21-year-old Vyan Sampson, and 22-year-old Beth Mead, loaned-out duo Katie McCabe and Chloe Kelly, plus those waiting in the wings such as Taylor Hinds. Defensive duo Lotte Wubben-Moy and Anna Patten played every game of an unbeaten Spring Series before both pursued a new journey in America over the summer.

There are players who know nothing else but Arsenal, Williamson has been a supporter since she was a child, Danielle Carter made the move as a 16-year-old, and England vice-captain Jordan Nobbs signed from Sunderland at 17.

Losa has an interesting mix of exciting British talent and big names from around the globe. Kim Little returned from the NWSL’s Seattle Reign FC and is potentially the most eye-catching signing of the winter, while Netherlands superstar Vivianne Miedema announced she’d be joining the club before her goals helped guide her nation to their first major tournament title.

Josephine Henning has returned, joined by Lisa Evans, Louise Quinn, and Jessica Samuelsson, and there’s now little excuse for Losa and Arsenal not to be mounting a major charge on the title this season.

 

What is for certain is that all three teams have genuine chances of success this season, two of them will also lead England’s charge into Europe. Three coaches, possibly not even yet at the peaks of their careers, leading teams full of stars into a new campaign where the stakes are getting higher and higher, year after year.

 

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