Lauren James says Chelsea boss Emma Hayes has ‘helped me get back to being myself again’

News Desk
Lauren James and Emma Hayes after a game.
Lauren James and Emma Hayes after a game.

Lauren James has praised Chelsea manager Emma Hayes for helping her get “back to being myself again” as the England forward heads into her first World Cup.

Having rejoined the Blues two summers ago from Manchester United, James had limited game time in 2021-22 before shining as a regular in Hayes’ team last season as they once again won the Women’s Super League and FA Cup double, and reached the Champions League semi-finals.

The 21-year-old has also impressed for England after making her debut against Austria last September, and with 11 caps and one goal for the Lionesses under her belt, James is now preparing for her first major tournament as a senior international as part of the squad for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand that gets under way in just under two weeks.

James, named young player of the year at the inaugural Women’s Football Awards in May, said of Hayes: “Emma is always helpful, she’s played a massive role in just getting me back to being myself again. She just says ‘enjoy it’, like ‘start enjoying the moments’.

“I had two years of just like constant injuries. She managed me well and it’s allowed me to find my feet again.

“In the moment everyone is like ‘why is Lauren not playing?’ and I want to be playing on the pitch, but in the long run it’s obviously paid out and it’s kept me on the pitch this season.”

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James was first at Chelsea in their academy before moving on to Arsenal and then United, when they relaunched as a Championship side in 2018.

She would go on to make a big impression for a Red Devils outfit that won promotion to the WSL at the first attempt, and James said: “Without making that move, I think I probably wouldn’t be where I am now.

“People would say it was a step back because I went to the Championship, but for me sometimes it allows you to go steps forward.”

James, whose performances as England won the Arnold Clark Cup in February earned her the player of the tournament award, started Saturday’s 0-0 World Cup warm-up draw with Portugal in Milton Keynes on the right side of the attack before switching to a deeper, central role for the second half.

She says boss Sarina Wiegman has been “brilliant with me”, adding: “She’s just allowed me to express myself, and not tried to change me, which obviously plays a massive role because it allows you to just play freely and have confidence.”

James was in attendance at Wembley a year ago when Wiegman’s side won the Euros, and she said: “Going to the final, it obviously made me feel more like ‘I want to make sure I’m there’ this summer and it gave me a bit more motivation and hunger.

“I’d like to feel the same as what they felt last summer.”

While James describes herself as someone who likes to “stay grounded”, she says if England do taste glory again this summer, she will add a “big World Cup” to her collection of tattoos.

Her older brother Reece, the England and Chelsea defender, has major international tournament experience having played at the men’s Euros in 2021, and James said the advice she had received from him was to “just enjoy it, have fun, try and score goals”.

With her star very much on the rise, James has also emphasised her desire to continue making a name for herself, saying: “I do feel like that, a lot.

“Even just ‘that’s Lauren James, that’s Reece’s sister’ – I want to carve that out and be known as ‘this is Lauren James’.”

Wiegman and her England players, after departing the country on a flight on Wednesday, landed in Australia on Friday. They have a behind-closed-doors warm-up against Canada scheduled for July 14 before opening their World Cup campaign by playing Haiti in Brisbane eight days later.

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