The birth of Chelsea 4.0 illustrates Emma Hayes has Sir Alex Ferguson’s knack of rebuilding

As Chelsea stand on the brink of a 14th major trophy of Emma Hayes’s 11-year tenure, the club’s knack for succession planning, their ability to continually evolve their side and never stand still has proven invaluable once again.

Rebuilding a winning team to stay on top is not something many sports clubs have been able to manage. Sir Alex Ferguson’s 27-year reign at Manchester United, where he rebuilt winning team after winning team, is the finest of the rare exceptions. But for most clubs, this task proves elusive. Stars wane, the core of winning teams age and an unrefreshed side can stagnate. At Chelsea, this has not happened.

Now needing a victory over bottom side Reading on the Women’s Super League’s final day on Saturday to win what would be their fourth consecutive title, this looks like the final season of Chelsea 3.0, the latest incarnation of Hayes’ trophy-hogging setup. But Chelsea 4.0 is already taking shape.

Chelsea 1.0 under Hayes looked very different indeed. The side that lifted the club’s first major honours in 2015, including their first WSL title, consisted of a central spine that included Hedvig Lindahl in goal, Gilly Flaherty at centre-back, Katie Chapman in holding midfield and Eni Aluko. Their South Korean technician Ji So-Yun was the PFA Player of the Year.

By the time Hayes’ team won their second WSL title in 2017-18, after their success in 2017’s Spring Series, Chelsea 2.0 had already evolved. They had Ann-Katrin Berger in goal, England’s Millie Bright at centre-back, Wales’ Sophie Ingle in holding midfield and Fran Kirby frequently stealing the show up front, with Kirby that season’s PFA Player of the Year.

Following the staggered, headline arrivals of Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder over the course of 2020, after the pandemic, the strike duo dubbed ‘Kerrby’ began to dominate, with Kirby and Kerr finding unrelenting goalscoring form, and a Chelsea 3.0 was well on its way. Germany’s Melanie Leupolz made the holding midfield role her own, and ever-improving talents such as tenacious Scotland midfielder Erin Cuthbert started to become more of a prominent feature in the side.

Standing on the cusp of what would be a third consecutive domestic double, Chelsea 3.0 has arguably been the most successful of Hayes’ sides, but after something of a transitional year this term, and with four summer signings already finalised, Chelsea 4.0 is coming to a WSL ground near you soon.

That’s because, already confirmed as leaving the club this summer are Denmark forward Harder and club captain Magdalena Eriksson, aged 30 and 29 respectively. As usual, the club have done the majority of their summer business early to plan to replace those two key players. Neither is ‘over the hill’ yet, but most of the typical peak years of their careers in terms of age have been spent in west London.

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