Emma Hayes Has Been ITV’s Star Pundit For The Euros – Here’s Why

“Just listen to Emma Hayes feeding us insight and knowledge. Elite.”

emma hayes football

by Michael Hogan |
Updated on

She’s coming home, she’s coming home, she’s coming, Emma Hayes is coming home. Into our homes via the TV screen, to be specific. Yes, Hayes has been the standout pundit of Euro 2020 and now ITV have rightly recognised her star status.

The football-mad 44-year-old was due supposed to have finished her media duties by now, returning to her day job as a multiple trophy-winning manager. However, the channel this week announced that they were given her a new pitchside role last night's historic England vs Denmark semi-final at Wembley. All eyes might have been on the players, but when the dust had settled on England's nail-biting 2-1 win, all eyes were on Hayes' ecstatic victory dance with Ian Wright when England won their first goal of the night - an equaliser set up by Raheem Sterling, but technically nudged into the net by Denmark's own Simon Kjaer.

Extending Hayes' tenure was a smart move. The Chelsea women's supremo has become TV’s breakout star of the tournament. Her shrewd tactical insights and infectious enthusiasm have put her stale, male peers to shame. Voted the most popular pundit via social media metrics, Hayes’ widely praised stint behind the mic could also prove a watershed moment for women in the male-dominated world of sports broadcasting.

Whether it’s as a co-commentator or providing analysis in the studio, Hayes has been a breath of fresh air. She’s seized her primetime platform to showcase her credentials as a tactical mastermind, dissecting the live action in warm, witty and engaging style.

All too often, glancing at social media when a woman appears on televised sport is a deeply dispiriting experience - full of faceless male trolls telling her to “get back in the kitchen”, erroneously claiming a lack of knowledge, complaining about her “shrill” voice “just not sounding right” and much worse besides.

Sure, there have still been haters for Hayes but abusive keyboard warriors are noticeably fewer and further between. The loudest voices have been hailing her as a shrewd student of the game, adept at explaining arcane terms as “low blocks” and “covering the pivot” in a nuanced way which enlightens casual viewers and satisfies know-alls.

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“There’s been an outpouring of both love and hate but I’m alright with that,” Hayes says philosophically. “I drive some people mad but I can’t do it any differently. That’s just how I see the game and how I work every day. Football often gets dumbed down with fans treated like lager louts but many of them appreciate the deeper, more tactical analysis.”

Amid all the A-list footballing names appearing across the BBC and ITV, Hayes is the only one who’s currently working as a head coach. You can tell. She has stats at her fingertips, casually dropping them in at precisely the right time to enhance viewers’ experience. “Just listen to Emma Hayes feeding us insight and knowledge,” tweeted Ian Wright. “Elite.”

That’s because she does her homework, painstakingly compiling dossiers full of screen grabs and annotated diagrams. Her ferocious work ethic was highlighted by Hayes’ friend and former Chelsea captain, Karen Carney, who Instagrammed a pic of Hayes’ bulging folder with the caption: “People wonder why she’s so good. Her prep is a joke #details”.

Hayes’ huge tactical nous will come as no surprise to those who’ve followed her career. Hayes leaves no stone unturned when preparing for a match. She’s simply translated that passion and intensity from the dug-out to the commentary box.

As a child, Hayes hero-worshipped Diego Maradona (“He was the greatest. He did impossible things in an era when opponents kicked lumps out of him and got away with it”). Camden born and bred, she watched Tottenham Hotspur rapt from the terraces of White Hart Lane, where creative geniuses Glenn Hoddle and Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne were her idols.

She joined Arsenal's academy until her playing career was cruelly cut short by an ankle injury aged 17. Instead she turned first to academia, taking a degree in European Studies, Spanish & Sociology, followed by a Masters in Intelligence & International Affairs. Male footballers tend to be snatched from school at an early age, have money thrown at them and never need to study. Hayes is exactly the opposite, with a keen thirst for knowledge.

When she turned to football management in her mid-20s, Hayes took it equally seriously. She’s already led Arsenal and several US sides to great success. She’s currently fresh from signing an open-ended deal to remain in charge of reigning Women's Super League champions Chelsea - their fourth league title - for as long as she wants. That’s how good she is.

In contrast to the jaded, seen-it-all-before tone of many players-turned-pundits, Hayes retains the infectious enthusiasm of a true fan, combined with enough nerdy know-how to silence any mansplainers. Now she’s back by popular demand, putting the staid male pundits to shame.

Sure, Ally McCoist has been a twinkly delight. Jurgen Klinsmann and Micah Richards have charmed. Roy Keane’s had his mad-eyed moments. But many of the men in grey slacks - we’re looking at you, Lee Dixon and Danny Murphy - have been sending viewers to sleep these past few weeks.

The contrast was stark during the first semi-final on Tuesday. The fascinating clash between Italy and Spain was a tactical chess match full of talking points. These two great Mediterranean nations couldn’t be separated, battling went all the way to a penalty shootout before Italy claimed an epic, emotional victory.

Listening to co-commentator Murphy, though, you’d think it was a sheepdog trial on a wet ’n’ windy moor. At one point, he handed back to the equally dreary Alan Shearer in the studio, who continued in a similar cliché-riddled monotone. The hair-free pair were like the Mitchell brothers of downbeat droning. They sounded like two dour Northern neighbours discussing wheelie bin collections, rather than a dazzling display of footballing drama.

The occasion was crying out for Hayes to inject some energy and appreciation of the technical masterclass being played out on the Wembley turf. She would’ve ridden to viewers’ rescue like an England player on an inflatable unicorn.

All too often, male pundits give the impression of having been on the golf course all week, before strolling into the TV studio and just saying what they see. Hayes has no such sense of entitlement. She’s worked formidably hard to get where she is and it shows.

As BBC Sport presenter Jacqui Oatley has said: “She’s taking summarising to a different level. She is educating an audience during the course of a game without sounding patronising. Those of us who cover women’s football know exactly what Emma Hayes is like. She’s a big personality and an absolute dream in front of a microphone."

ITV are wise to reward Hayes with this new role. She’s been a success for all the right reasons and won’t let them down. A female pundit for a match of this magnitude, expected to be watched by 30m people, will be a breakthrough moment.

Nadia Nadim, Eni Aluko and Alex Scott have also impressed on Euros punditry duty - with Scott next month becoming the first ever female host of Saturday lunchtime stalwart Football Focus. Carney and Izzy Christiansen have won plaudits on BBC Radio 5Live. Meanwhile, Gabby Logan seamlessly helmed the BBC’s coverage whenever Gary Lineker needed a night off.

This has been the tournament when women went from tokenistic, box-ticking inclusions to thriving in central roles. It hasn’t just been refreshing to watch but has helped broaden the appeal of the Euros over this glorious past month. It’s become less of a beery boys’ club, more of a nation-uniting spectacle and pop cultural phenomenon.

As her stock has steadily risen, Emma Hayes has been leading the charge. Let’s hope that Wednesday night’s semi-final isn’t the last we see of her on-screen this summer. Fingers crossed there'll be Sunday night’s final for a start. Bring it home, Hayesy.

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