Aston Villa Women have had an incredible season so far, as with 9 games left in their season, the Villans are on course to achieve their highest ever WSL finish – with them holding that fifth spot on the table as of now.
Villa have used this season to make sure their players understand Carla Ward’s footballing philosophy, which is why there has been a fair few new arrivals at the Bescot Stadium. These have provided an insight into some of the reasons why they currently are the ‘best of the rest’, but there are a multitude of reasons which we will delve into during this article.
THE MIRACLE WORKER: CARLA WARD
One of the main reasons behind Villa’s recent success is absolutely Carla Ward. The 39-year-old had worked wonders at the clubs she had been at previously, such as taking Sheffield United from a side newly promoted in the fourth tier to a team who finished second in the Championship. She also helped Birmingham City survive relegation, something which was a necessary skill to have when she started at a volatile Villa.
However, despite this success, Carla was never allowed to kick on because she didn’t receive the same funding as the team’s around her. When she left Sheffield United, they instantly dropped to fourth (20/21 season), only collecting 4 more points in the 6 extra games. They also ended up 12 points off promotion, whilst only being 6 away last time. Even now, Sheffield United have not recovered, dropping to seventh in the 21/22 season and are now sitting in eleventh, 5 points from relegation. This is because the likes of Leicester, Southampton, Crystal Palace and other Premier League/Championship men’s sides outspending them. (This is despite the fact that they are one themselves, but that’s a story for a different day.)
My point here is that Carla wasn’t given the time of day by the owners of these clubs. The same happened at Birmingham City, where she resigned due to the club “preventing [her] from performing [their] jobs to the best of [their] ability.” For reference, since Ward’s departure Birmingham City were relegated to the Championship and currently sit in fourth, 8 points off promotion.
Carla, finally, has been given funding for not only the basics (facilities, travel, medical support) but also for new players, which has allowed her to finally show the WSL what she is capable of.
SMART PLAYER RECRUITMENT
As I previously mentioned, Aston Villa have brought a fair few players in this season. 10 of them to be exact. However, these signings have not just been replacements, but rather improvements. Villa let go around 4 players who could be considered ‘first teamers’, whilst they have brought in 7 to 8 first-teamers at least (it could be argued all 10 are). These are all fairly good signings, however, particularly the likes of Jordan Nobbs, Anna Patten, Rachel Daly (WSL joint top scorer) and Kenzi Dali have all been level raisers and key to their success.
Nobbs is the most interesting out of those four, so let’s delve into it. Nobbs may not seem key to their success, having only joined in January, but her impact has already been stark. You could argue that they were good before she joined, but things such as her scoring a hattrick in a 6-2 win over Brighton and Hove Albion last week will only strengthen this Villa side. However, there’s more than meets the eye with this transfer. Nobbs has key qualities on the pitch for sure, but I think her off the pitch leadership is part of the reason she’s been brought in.
Nobbs has won a staggering 16 trophies, with 12 of those coming during her 13 year spell at Arsenal. Her leadership also comes without question, captaining her country’s youth sides, and her club on many occasions as well as being the vice-captain of her country. Nobbs has played her way back into the Lionesses’ squad, this time for the Arnold Clark Cup, and Aston Villa having a player like Nobbs will do wonders for some of the younger players, such as Freya Gregory, Hannah Hampton and Laura Blindklide
Overall, there is definitely some promise for this Villa side, especially if they can keep their manager as well as some of their crown jewels. I don’t believe that this is the peak of this Villa side, but as we’ve seen before in the WSL, projects can fall very quickly as a result of form, complacency, or investment. Regardless, it will be very interesting to see what happens to Aston Villa in the future.