‘Players are classed as numbers, not people; that’s not okay’ – Carla Ward’s final Aston Villa press conference

(Tom Phillips/SPP)

Aston Villa manager Carla Ward believes that psychological support for players and staff remains in urgent need of improvement.

Ward was speaking in her final press conference before stepping down at the end of this season. The former Sheffield United and Birmingham City boss was announced earlier this month as leaving Villa after three years, with family priorities cited as the lead factor.

Asked by She Kicks what she feels is in the greatest need of change in the game, she also responded to the question of whether players and staff are currently being listened to enough.

“Possibly not. I said it a few times about women’s football and a picnic, and I stand by it; it’s the best way of putting it.

“You’ve got a blanket, and on top, you’ve got champagne and strawberries; underneath, you’ve got grass and rubble. That’s the women’s game; the reality, (and then) what you see from the outside.

“A lot of work still needs to be done, there is a massive amount of work that needs to be done. For me, psychological support, mental support for players, staff.

“I sound like a broken record but at what point is that going to be something that’s put into the licence? It should be, it has to be; we’re talking about human beings, we’re not talking about numbers.

“Too many times, and I’ve said it time and time again, and I feel very strongly about this, players are classed as numbers, not people; that’s not okay. That’s in the game far too much.”

Efforts to improve player welfare have included an announcement in February of three new projects from the Barclays Women’s Super League, Championship and The Well HQ to support clubs across female-athlete health. A collaboration that began in 2020, internal workshops were introduced to support players, and the new projects include clubs being asked to nominate a support-staff member as their Female Athlete Health Lead.

A BBC Sport report in January stated that it is ‘part of WSL regulations for all clubs to form a mental-health strategy and to employ a full-time Safeguarding and Player Welfare Officer,’ with The FA indicating ‘plans to make club-specialist roles in wellbeing and sport psychology mandatory in WSL licences in the future.’

Ward also shared her belief that without greater support around managers, more may need to take a break from the game.

“I don’t think you breathe in this job. I thought (Chelsea boss) Emma (Hayes) used her words quite cleverly after the game (with Tottenham) last night when she said ‘knackered, exhausted.’

“I think management now is changing. I think the demands are intense, and unless you have the right staffing infrastructure, it can become even more difficult.

“The way the women’s game’s going, infrastructure’s something, and staffing’s something that needs to be addressed, otherwise you’ll see more and more managers take breaks, I think.”

Carla Ward to be Aston Villa's new manager
(Kieran Riley/SPP)

Leading Villa to 9th and 5th-place finishes in the WSL in her first two seasons, Ward has overseen a recovery this time around after a five-game losing streak to start 2023-24, with the team now guaranteed to finish 7th. They could, however, have a pivotal say in the outcome of the title race as the WSL draws to a close this Saturday (3pm kick-offs).

Villa host Manchester City (currently 2nd, level on points with leaders Chelsea but with a goal difference of two worse and fewer scored), while Chelsea travel to Manchester United at Old Trafford.

“We like playing against Manchester City; the last few years, we’ve had some good games against them,” Ward said in response to a question from the BBC. “They are a team that play in a way that I love.”

“We want to win the game, it’s as simple as that. I couldn’t care less about what goes on elsewhere, I just care about trying to get maximum points.”

Ward also indicated that she may remain involved at the club in a separate role, although the details are currently unclear. Having emerged in recent years as one of the domestic game’s most colourful personalities, she was asked in a final question from She Kicks if there is any danger that she may return to management in the future as a reformed, boring character…

“Reformed in that I might bring some personality back – I think the job’s sucked the life out of me! I think I used to have a personality but it seems to have disappeared.

“My idea is that I come back with the personality that I used to have and not this boring me that you see at the moment!”


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