Hayes eyes elusive Champions League before Chelsea departure
Emma Hayes has vowed the leave her role as Chelsea women's boss "at the top" and is ready for one last crack at the only major trophy to elude her - the Champions League.
The Blues travel to Real Madrid on Wednesday to begin their latest quest to conquer Europe for the first time.
But Chelsea are still coming to terms with the news that Hayes will depart at the end of the season, reportedly to take up a lucrative role in charge of the US women's national team.
In 11 years in charge, Hayes has made Chelsea the dominant force of the English game.
The 47-year-old's reputation as an inspirational leader and shrewd tactician looks set to earn her arguably the biggest job in women's football as coach of the four-time world champions.
Hayes will be reportedly be rewarded by a record salary of $1.6 million to match US men's manager Greg Berhalter as part of an equal pay deal.
She described the decision to part ways with Chelsea like "abandoning her family", but it is one she has made in part due to family demands.
Her five-year-old son is reportedly not a football fan due to the time it forces his mum to be away from.
Despite the intensity of the spotlight in international football, it does not carry the same demands as the rigours of day-to-day club management.
"My little boy has been extraordinary to allow me to do this job, but it's important for him," said Hayes.
"This is not a selfish decision, it's a selfless decision. It's about putting first other things in my life and I'm ready for that."
Before then, Hayes' focus is on burnishing her legacy in west London.
A haul of six league titles, five FA Cups and two League Cups will most likely be added to between now and her exit in May.
But the hurdle of becoming just the second English side to ever win the women's Champions League, and the first since Arsenal's success in 2007, has so far proved too high for Chelsea to clear.
Twice in the past three seasons it has been an all-conquering Barcelona that have stood in the way.
In the 2021 final the Catalans cruised to a 4-0 win, but last season's semi-final between the pair was a far closer encounter as Barca advanced 2-1 on aggregate before lifting the trophy for a second time.
Chelsea will hope their European season begins and ends in Spain, with Bilbao playing host to the final on May 25.
A tough group also includes Paris FC, who dumped out two of last season's semi-finalists Arsenal and Wolfsburg in the qualifiers, and Swedish side BK Hacken.
But anything less than progress to the latter stages will be a huge disappointment for Chelsea and a damp squib to end Hayes' reign of glory.
"I've taken this team to the top and I always said I wanted to leave at the top, and I maintain that," she said.
"I think I've dedicated as much as I possibly can to this football club. I've loved every minute of it."