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‘She’s a winner’: What Chelsea can expect from Emma Hayes’ successor Sonia Bompastor

Sonia Bompastor lifts the trophy as she celebrates with her players after Lyon were crowned French Women's D1 Champions
Sonia Bompastor knows what it takes to win - AFP/Olivier Chassignole

White smoke is at long last rising from Chelsea with Sonia Bompastor officially named as Emma Hayes’ successor on a four-year contract. Now that the club’s new leader is confirmed, after Telegraph Sport broke the news last month, what kind of management style can Chelsea fans expect from the French coach next season?

Chelsea are understood to have identified Bompastor as their No 1 candidate partly because of her experience of understanding the pressure to win. From the words used to describe Bompastor by those who have worked with her previously, it seems the Women’s Super League champions have chosen somebody whose character fits the team’s mould of “mentality monsters”, as Hayes labelled them in 2021.

The 43-year-old is the only female coach to have won the Women’s Champions League within the past 15 years and she was also a hugely successful player, winning the European title twice with French side Lyon.

Bompastor captained Lyon to their first Champions League title in 2011, beating German outfit Turbine Potsdam 2-0 in the final at Fulham’s Craven Cottage. Former Norway midfielder Ingvild Stensland, who is now assistant coach of her national team, was also part of that team and gives an insight into her then team-mate.

“Sonia was the captain, a leader-type personality with an extreme winning mentality,” Stensland tells Telegraph Sport. “She’s friendly, she’s a nice person. But I remember mostly her determination – it was her mentality and her dedication to everything she did, including in practice. She was a leader.”

Stensland also played against Bompastor at international level and says she was revered as a full-back at both ends of the pitch, adding: “She could do both – she was strong as an attacking full-back but also great at stopping players getting past her.”

‘She was a strong leader’

A versatile left-sided player, Bompastor’s ability naturally led to her being a key player for the France team and she made her senior international debut against Scotland in 2000. She went on to earn 156 caps as well as being a two-time French Cup winner and a seven-time French league winner, after initial success with Montpellier before Lyon.

Sylvain Jamet, a reporter for French women’s football magazine Footofeminin, has observed parts of Bompastor’s playing career in France as well as her managerial spell at Lyon. He says: “Her mentality, she’s a winner, she wants to win. She was the same as a player. When we watched open training sessions she was always trying to win everything, every practice drill, she had the mentality to be a winner, to show the players the standard to be the best possible. She will want to win everything.

“She was a wing-back or left-back for Lyon and the French national team. At club level she won everything as a player and, although the national team didn’t win anything, she was a driving force in improving the French team. She was a strong leader.”

Bompastor’s playing career also saw her enjoy spells with Washington Freedom in America – helping her become a fluent English speaker, which will have been another attraction for Chelsea – and Paris St-Germain, before she worked at Lyon’s academy and then became the club’s manager in 2021. By the end of the 2021-22 season her side were European champions, shocking Barcelona in Turin, although the Catalan club got their revenge in last weekend’s Champions League final in Bilbao. But what of her style of play?

Lyon shock Barcelona to win the Champions League final in 2022
Bompastor's Lyon shocked Barcelona to win the Champions League final in 2022 - AFP/Marco Bertorello

“On the coaching side, she’s very pragmatic in terms of the football she wants to play,” Jamet added. “Lyon fans enjoyed the results because the results were good but this was not the French way of playing football. We saw against Barcelona in Bilbao, they didn’t try to outplay Barcelona with their football – they tried to beat Barcelona on the break and they tried to out-muscle them. She doesn’t want to play pretty football if it’s not efficient, basically. She focuses on how to win.

“In press conferences, she has a friendly tone. But she will say what she wants to say! When she is not happy, you will know... she will say in her words.”

That friendly tone is not always guaranteed, as another of Bompastor’s former team-mates, Aston Villa and France midfielder Kenza Dali, revealed last week. She told football news website Fromthespot.co.uk: “Every single drill at training was competitive with her. I was young and I was scared of her!

“She’s the type of coach you don’t mess with. She was an amazing left-back first of all, an amazing player and so competitive. I think if you ask one word about Sonia, it’s ‘competitive’.”

Sonia Bompastor urges on her Lyon players in training
Bompastor is known for her competitiveness - Getty Images/Ramsey Cardy

Bompastor’s experience of dealing with dressing rooms full of world-class players is understood to be another thing that attracted Chelsea, along with her desire and work ethic. Chelsea’s long-serving women’s team general manager Paul Green drew up a shortlist of four coaches, together with sporting directors Paul Winstanley and Laurence Stewart, and Bompastor was identified relatively quickly as their outstanding candidate. Hayes was also consulted on the decision.

Bompastor, who will start her role on July 1, will make the switch to west London along with her assistant coaches at Lyon, Camille Abily, another decorated former France international, and Theo Rivrin. Chelsea are interviewing candidates to fill other back-room roles.

In a joint statement, Stewart and Winstanley said: “Sonia is the ideal candidate to build on Emma’s legacy and take the team forward. She brings a wealth of experience from managing at the highest levels and winning trophies as a player and a coach. Her ethos and values align with Chelsea Football Club. We are all looking forward to having her on board.”

Off the pitch, Chelsea are also in the process of setting up a standalone comercial structure for the women’s team to try to further increase revenues next season. This will not mean any changes to the footballing or recruitment staff structure, but will give the women’s arm of the club more dedicated resources to boost income, after a season where they quadrupled the value of their women’s team-only sponsorships and doubled ticket sales compared to 2022-23.

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