Interview: James Bird
Images: Flora Maclean
You can tell the amount of football a person has watched by the way they stand in a puffer jacket. Both hands burrowed deep inside warm pockets. The edge of the collar resting towards the top lip. Head angled downwards with eyes always looking for a ball. It’s a way of standing that is passed down generations and across pitches, whether you’re on your feet in a wind-rattled stadium or pitch side amongst the mud and guts and smell of deep heat of Sunday League. Paul Green is standing like that right now on one of the plush pitches at Chelsea’s Cobham Training Centre. It’s because of the amount of football he’s watched.
Born in 1976, Paul’s very first memories are of following his dad Bill’s footballing career around the country. A central defender, Bill played around 500 league games in the English football league, and Paul remembers being told that just ten days after he was born, the family had to move house hundreds of miles as his dad had been transferred from Carlisle to West Ham. Football was deep in his bones from day dot. Bill, who after retiring worked as a manager, coach and scout up until 2017, died four years ago, and the footballing education Paul received from him is something that he takes with him to work at Cobham every day.
Paul began working at Doncaster Belles in 2007 after his playing career was cut short through injury. He was key to the process that saw the club gain Barclays FA Women’s Super League status in 2011, and during his time as assistant manager there, they achieved a top-four finish twice. By 2012, Emma Hayes was in charge at Chelsea following coaching roles at Arsenal and clubs in the States, and at the beginning of her first full season in charge at Chelsea, Paul moved across to work as her assistant manager. The evolution of the club hasn’t paused to catch its breath since.
Since 2013, Chelsea have won the league four times, the Vitality Women’s FA Cup twice, The FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup twice, Spring Series once, Community Shield once and last year got to the final of the Champions League against Barcelona. World-class players like Ji So-Yun, Sam Kerr, and Pernille Harder have been brought in from abroad and integrated alongside domestic talent like Mille Bright and Beth England—both whose development at Doncaster Belles came during Paul’s time there—to create a squad that is continuing to strengthen under Paul’s integral role as General Manager. Ahead of the 2018 FA Cup Final, Emma Hayes said that Paul “has been a part of putting this team together as much as I have.”
With an upcoming match away at Manchester City as part of the upcoming Women’s Football Weekend, this is A Day in the Life of Paul Green…
Emma and I share the same office and everything we do goes hand in hand, really, which we feel is an important thing in terms of communication and making joint decisions. What Emma’s created here is unbelievable, really, and I’ve helped be a part of that. She is a fantastic coach, a great person, and has the type of vision and drive that has got us to where we are today.
But, we’re very different.
I’d say that I’m more cautious, and she’s more adventurous and takes more risks. And with that, I think the balance between the two of us works. I think it’s a good pairing.
A daily task between us is to discuss the current playing squad. Who are we looking to retain? Who are we looking to bring into the club? How can the squad evolve? It’s an ongoing process, and I’m speaking to different agents of players every single day. My phone’s red hot! As you can imagine, with the way the WSL has grown, a lot of players from all over the world want to come and play in this country, and therefore we get a lot of agents pushing their players to the club. For me, it’s a case of identifying which ones, if any, are good options for us. We have our own scouting department, so already have targets that we’ve identified, but of course, when an email comes in from any agent, we always look at it.
That element has changed a lot since I first joined in 2013. Now, pretty much every player has an agent, but back then I don’t think we had a single player with one. I think maybe Yuki Ogimi was the first player we signed who did, and so all those years ago, it was probably easier for me and Emma to just go and watch the players ourselves. Because of Emma’s background and mine domestically with Doncaster Belles, we had a good combined knowledge of leagues and players. As the game’s developed, that’s become more difficult, which is why it’s so important for us to have our own scouting system in place. Once they’ve identified players that they believe should be of interest to us, it will go through our full scouting structure and move up the scale before we go and watch them ourselves at an advanced level. The level we’ve got to and built to now is high, so it’s a lot more difficult to find a player that can improve the squad, which certainly wasn’t the case in 2013 to 2015 when we were going from part time to full time.
In my eyes, you're only as good as your recruitment in football. So, getting deals over the line is a part of my life that does give me a buzz. You know, we've signed a lot of top-quality players since I've been here, and with the current squad we're blessed with a lot of riches. Seeing those players arrive, get into the starting line-up, do well, and improve the team is exciting for me.
I’ll also be working on the scheduling alongside the operations team for the intricate parts of upcoming matches like travel, when and what we’re eating, what time the coach is leaving and where from, and confirming which days we are training, days off, too. Working in football is a 24/7 job, and I feel like I’m used to that because of my dad, really. As a scout, he’d be out watching games, and the phone would be constantly going about who to watch and who was available, so it’s just something I’ve grown up with.
His history in the game far outweighs mine at the moment and probably forever will, but certainly, I was brought up with football as being the only thing since I was very young. You know, from my first steps I was kicking a ball around, and I moved house ten days after being born because my dad had been sold from one club to another. It was very much all I've ever been brought up with, and I was always aspiring to be like him, if I'm being totally honest. I definitely took a lot of things on board from him, and I think I took a lot of good traits. I'm trying to keep his legacy going through what I'm doing with Chelsea.
He’s a massive influence on me. I'd go and watch whatever team he was playing for or managing over the years; I saw it at the front end, if you like. I remember one time I knew that he didn't like a certain manager. I was only about 3 or 4 and waiting to get autographs off the players, and when the manager came out, I just kicked him in the shins! I’d just follow him around wherever he went, and I’m constantly trying to achieve things that he did, but I guess I've done it in a slightly different way. I was always frustrated that I didn't play in the football league and have a better career as a player but following in his footsteps proved a little bit too big to fill on that side. Hopefully, if I can continue this successful spell with Chelsea and winning trophies here, I can emulate it in a slightly different way.
I've been told that I don't get excited very often, and that I'm pretty much on a level all the time, but what drives me is winning games and winning trophies, as it drives Emma. I'm sure there'll be more success to follow with the club, and there are a lot of things that we still want to achieve—especially as that one trophy has still eluded us. We were close last summer, but it didn’t quite happen for us. Emma is an inspirational leader, and that’s why I joined Chelsea when I did; it was that untapped potential, the dream, and the vision that Emma sold me. Just walking into the training ground that first day for the first time, it just blew me away. And, fortunately over the last nine years we've been very successful.
My proudest moment at the club was when I led the team out at Wembley for the FA Cup Final against Arsenal in May 2018. Emma was pregnant at the time and had mentioned to me earlier in the season that if we made the final that I would lead the team out. However, it didn’t dawn on me until we had beaten Manchester City in the semi-final that this was now to become a reality. My father had passed away in the August, and this game was at the end of the same season. It was a very emotional day for me, as 26 years earlier my father had led his team Scunthorpe United out at Wembley in the Play-Off Final. To follow in his footsteps and go on and win the game made it a very special day for me and my family.
When I first joined Doncaster Rovers Belles in 2007, we were playing in the top tier of English women’s football, but the team was part-time. They trained twice a week with games on a Sunday, had other jobs during the day and then came to train with us in the evening. So, I’ve seen lots change. Even before we turned professional at Chelsea in 2015, we had maybe eight full-time players that would train during the day, and then the full team would be brought together on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Women’s football wasn’t on telly at all, and to get any information about the game was very difficult. There was just nothing. And I think if someone had asked me at that time whether I thought the game would be where it is now, I don't think I would've quite believed it would be. It's so far away from what it was.
With things like Women’s Football Weekend, Sky Sports coming on board, the Euros being in England this year, a World Cup the following year, and DAZN taking on the Champions League, things are going to get even bigger. Things like Non-League Day exist in the men’s game, so it makes sense for Women’s Football Weekend to fall in a men’s international window. It’s a great opportunity to showcase the women’s game, and in this season, it’s already being showcased more than in any other. It’s a great time for any young girl coming through to see inspiring role models like a Fran Kirby or Pernille Harder and now know that they can have a good career as a women’s professional footballer.
We spoke to Paul at Chelsea's Cobham's Training Centre as part of the FA's Women's Football Weekend initiative on the weekend of November 13th and 14th. You can find out more about that, including fixtures, ticket information, and how to watch the games from the comfort of your own home, here.
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