WHILE the ref’s final whistle at Kingsmeadow might precede a fifth WSL title for Chelsea, it may also feel like the end of an era for three of their stars.
The club’s match against Manchester United will be Drew Spence’s, Ji So-Yun’s and Jonna Andersson’s final league games in Blues shirts.
Ji So-Yun is set to leave Chelsea following their FA Cup final clash with Manchester CityCredit: Reuters
Ji, 31, and midfielder Spence, 29 are among Chelsea’s longest-serving players.
Spence rose through their ranks after signing as a youth player from Arsenal in 2008 with Ji arriving six years later from Japanese club INAC Kobe Leonessa
Both were in the side that helped Chelsea to their first FA Cup win in 2015 with playmaker Ji netting the winner in a 1-0 defeat of Notts County.
And Andersson, 29, helped the London giants claim their second WSL crown in 2018 following her switch from Swedish outfit Linkoping that year.
But for Hayes, the trios’ influence goes further than their roles in the club’s silverware triumphs.
The Blues manager said: “To focus on that sells them short.
“With Ji, we were blessed bringing a gifted player like her to this football club
“She brought short ball football to the English game at a time it was still progressing.
“Players like Drew and even Hannah (Blundell) when she was here, gravitated towards Ji because they love having the ball.
“She really embraced living in England and growing with Chelsea.
“I learned so much from Ji in many different ways.”
Spence is the only member of the Blues squad, who has been with the club longer than her boss.
And Hayes believes the Jamaica midfielder, who was born in London, could serve as a role model to young footballing talents in the capital.
The Kingsmeadow chief added: “Drew has a big role to play (one day) in the community after her (playing) career.
“She could be a huge role model in London but she’s got plenty of football left in her and she wants to keep playing.”
Andersson will join Swedish side Hammarby IF following her Blues departure.
The defender, who has made 81 top-flight appearances for Chelsea, became the second Sweden international to join the club following ex-Blues shot-stopper Hedvig Lindahl.
Hayes said: “The Swedish players are some of the most intense players and they want the most details (about a game plan)
“Jonna is all about standards, process, detail and diligence in tactical application. She raised the bar for our English players
“The legacy of Jonna, Ji and Drew goes beyond trophies. All three have been driving standards.”
The departing trio are also among Chelsea’s oldest players.
Drew Spence could be set for a move to another WSL club following her departure from ChelseaCredit: Getty
And managing the age balance of the squad has been a priority for Hayes this term.
The Chelsea gaffer added: “I think we had an ageing squad, we’ve had to try and address that balance and to compete while transitioning. That’s really tough.
“As a coach, it’s why I’m pleased we’re in the position to compete because that’s the hardest thing to do.”