Carla Ward: Player-coach relationships are ‘a complete abuse of power’ and should ‘100%’ be a sackable offence

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Ahead of their Barclays Women’s Super League trip to Everton, Aston Villa’s Carla Ward took her pre-match press conference as an opportunity to speak openly about the prevalence of player-coach relationships in women’s football.

Ward has never shied away from discussing sensitive topics in her press conferences, and Thursday was no different. A week ago, news broke that Leicester City manager Willie Kirk had been suspended by the club, aiding with an ‘internal investigation’ after reports of a relationship with a player.

‘The game is going at a rapid rate – it can’t happen,’ explained Ward, perhaps referencing Jonathan Morgan, who was recently the focus of another investigation into player-coach relationships. ‘Our job and our duty is to protect players, at first and foremost. So to cross that line is unacceptable, and it can’t happen.’

‘It makes me very angry because we are here to set an environment, a comfortable place where people come to work, that they feel safe, that they feel backed, that they feel looked after. So I just don’t understand anyone that crosses that line.’

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Kathryn Batte’s article in the Daily Mail delved into the specifics of the debate, questioning where the line is drawn for acceptable behaviour within women’s football. Ward’s stance on the subject was remarkably clear, with the Villa manager suggesting that ‘it’s very simple. I think when the game got professionalised, you can’t cross that line. Now we are talking about levels – it’s parent/teacher in my opinion. You can’t do it.’

‘It is a complete abuse of power. We are in a moment right now where there is a microscope on the women’s game, and people are taking advantage of certain positions. I don’t like that, I don’t think it’s right. When I see these things coming out, the only way to clean the game out is to highlight it and get rid of it.’

Legislation does not speak explicitly on the legality of player-coach relationships, but Ward made it clear that regardless of the official stance, it is morally wrong. ‘Come on, it’s an unwritten rule,’ she insisted.

‘There is a lot of unwritten rules in life that people shouldn’t cross. But probably given where we are now, and given that some people probably don’t understand that unwritten rule, maybe we put it in black and white so that it’s clear.’

Quizzed as to whether player-coach relationships should result in an automatic dismissal, her answer was clear: ‘Yes, 100%.’

Leicester City have not issued an update on the investigation since before last Saturday’s Adobe Women’s FA Cup victory over Liverpool, which merely stated that Kirk would be absent from the touchline as the ‘internal investigation’ takes place.