Despite overseeing an Aston Villa side that has fallen to five consecutive defeats in the Barclays Women’s Super League at the start of the 2023/24 season, Carla Ward insists that the dressing room have kept ‘wholehearted’ confidence in her managerial ability.
Speaking in her pre-match press conference ahead of a crucial game at the bottom of the league table against Bristol City, the boss spoke of how much her players can take from a midweek win against Sheffield United in the Conti Cup.
‘I think it was a moment that we, as a group, needed,’ she explains. ‘It’s really funny, I was talking to someone yesterday – if you came into the environment, you wouldn’t know we’d lost five games because the group are really together, they want to turn things around. Now it’s about taking that into the weekend.’
Ward described herself as an ‘admirer of Lauren and the work she’s done’ at Bristol City, but was keen to dismiss the idea that Villa are favourites going into Sunday’s clash at Ashton Gate. ‘We’re bottom of the league! How can we be favourites?’ she joked, before insisting that it is ‘a must-win, we’ve got to go out there and try to win the game.’
‘We all understand football. We all understand that it’s a results business. We all understand that you’ve got to win football matches and that’s my focus, my only focus. We know the pressures of football, we all know it.’Embed from Getty Images
‘It was a tough moment after Chelsea,’ explains Ward. ‘One thing I immediately did was despite the struggles, I put a message to the staff reminding them of their quality and what we need to do – stick together and go in again. I got home, had a glass of wine and there were a couple of coaches that picked the phone up.’
Despite Emma Hayes being the mastermind of that six-goal demolition, Ward continued to sing her praises when questioned about her recent decision to step away from Chelsea – and club football. ‘Any decision that you make around your career and your family is the right decision and we had that conversation when she spoke to me about it. I know with my little one, similar to her little one, it’s massively important that you do what’s best for your family. She’s an exceptional human, she helps me a lot but she won’t get away from me too much!’
But while Hayes might be a little further afield if the rumours of her taking the USWNT job are true, Ward is lucky to have a supportive dressing room. Just minutes after that hefty defeat to Chelsea, Rachel Daly told the club’s social media channels that the players will continue to ‘play for Carla’ – and Ward insisted that ‘it’s what keeps you going.’
I asked outright to some of the leaders in the group: Have I got the dressing room? And the answer was 100% wholeheartedly.
‘The players know that I’ll give them everything, every ounce I’ve got, and the one thing I pride myself on is treating the players right. In these moments when it does become tough, it’s very easy to point a finger at the manager but through building those relationships with players, they then have your back as well as you have theirs. That’s something I’m immensely proud of but I must admit after the Chelsea game, getting some of the messages I did from players was something that absolutely kept me going.’
Yet the highlight of the press conference was a fantastic analogy from the Villa manager as she discussed the growing need for women’s specific research in football – ‘you’ve got a blanket going out for a picnic, and on top of the blanket you’ve got strawberries, cream and champagne. Women’s football looks like that, but underneath the blanket you’ve got mud and grass – not a lot of grass but a bit of mud! It looks a lot better from the outside than it does behind the scenes.’