Exclusive - Former Chelsea striker Eniola Aluko has lifted the lid on the long-term ‘vision’ that manager Emma Hayes has been working towards since day one in the job.
Hayes is fresh off the back of delivering Chelsea a fourth WSL title in the last six seasons but is determined to go one step further and win the Champions League final against Barcelona, in what will be the Blues' maiden appearance.
Aluko had two spells at Chelsea during her playing career, both before Hayes arrived and later for six years under her leadership, experiencing that drive and winning mentality first hand.
“She’s had a huge impact and I think she set this vision a long time ago, back in 2012 when she arrived, to become a competitive, title-winning team in Europe,” Aluko told 90min.
“Emma Hayes has constantly talked about the Champions League, [being in the final] is not a surprise. I think after the first time we played in the Champions League in 2015 it’s been an aim ever since to keep growing in the competition.
“Getting to two semi-finals [in 2018 and 2019] has pushed to think, ‘Okay, what is it going to take to get to the final?’ So you sign Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder. Those are player that edge it [further].
“In football with recruitment, you’ve got to figure out who is going to get you over the line, who is going to push it even further and get you that goal when it matters. I think that is what Emma has done. Recruitment and setting a vision, and executing the vision really well.”
Like all serial winners, Hayes is never satisfied with one triumph and is constantly looking ahead to the next chance. After her team were crowned WSL champions last weekend, she commented, “I said to the players when they got their medals: ‘Do you like winning? Well do it again next week’.”
Aluko has no doubt that the winning environment that has been created by Hayes at Chelsea over the last eight and a half years will allow the squad to re-focus, especially because the Champions League is the big one that has eluded them so far.
“I honestly think if you were to give those Chelsea players the option of winning the Champions League or winning the [WSL], a lot of them would take the Champions League,” she said.
“They’ll be celebrating the league of course, that’s the bread and butter you work so hard for. But there will be no qualms about putting down your drinks and getting ready for the Champions League final. That is the big one that they will all be focused on.”
Barcelona knocked Manchester City out in the semi-finals to get to their second final in three years and will still pose a major threat to Chelsea. Their squad is flush with top international players, including the likes of Lieke Martens, Caroline Graham Hansen and Jenni Hermoso.
But one player in the Barca team that particularly stands out for Aluko is Asisat Oshoala. There are injury concerns about the Nigerian international ahead of the final, but she has been successful all over the world and was named BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year in 2015.
“If she’s fit to start, I think Oshoala is a player that will cause Millie Bright and Magda [Eriksson] problems. She is very powerful, her movement is very good. She provide a different type of threat for a very possession-specific Barcelona team,” the retired player turned pundit said.
“She has scored in a Champions League final before. She’s very impactful. I think she’s a big threat to Chelsea. I think this game will be decided in both boxes. Fran Kirby and Sam Kerr will have to turn up on the day, but I think Oshoala, equally, on the other side will be a big threat.”
BT Sport has live coverage of the UEFA Women’s Champions League final between Chelsea Women and Barcelona Women live from 7.15pm on Sunday 16th May on BT Sport 2 .