Aston Villa have made astute signings in Nobbs and Staniforth but manager Ward must still give youth a chance

The experienced duo have gone straight into the Villans’ starting XI but that could be detrimental to the development of rising star Blindkilde and the rest of their talented youngsters, writes Jessy Parker Humphreys.

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If you had to pick out a signing of the season so far, it would be hard to look past Rachel Daly. The 31-year-old was signed for an undisclosed fee from Houston Dash and is the joint top goal scorer in the WSL with nine goals in 11 games.

Kenza Dali hasn’t been so bad either, with three goals and three assists in the first half of the season. The French midfielder is also 31. Both have been mainstays of Aston Villa’s impressive start to the season, with Carla Ward’s side only five points off their total from the entirety of last season.

Another mainstay has been Laura Blindkilde. The 19-year-old has started every game and been doing the heavy lifting when it comes to bringing Villa’s average age down. Blindkilde is one of the most exciting Under-21 prospects in the WSL – Maya Le Tissier is the only Under-21 with more minutes under her belt – and plays in a highly coveted position within women’s football right now.

Midfielders have been hard to come by at the very top of the game. Barcelona’s record-breaking transfer for Keira Walsh and Chelsea’s attempt to prise Grace Geyoro out of Paris Saint-Germain for half a million pounds has been enough evidence of that. Coupled with the fact that Blindkilde is eligible for Denmark as well as England, there are plenty of reasons she is one of the hottest prospects in the game right now.

But football moves fast and sometimes being a competent teenage midfielder at the top end of the table is not necessarily shiny enough. Villa signed Jordan Nobbs and Lucy Staniforth in the January window to much acclaim. Both players have endured significant time on the bench in recent months, pushed out of Arsenal and Manchester United respectively, but have gone straight into Aston Villa’s starting line-up.

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This is hardly surprising. Nobbs and Staniforth will have one eye on England’s World Cup squad, although those eyes must be squinting at the summer in truth. Their time at Villa is an attempt to show what they can do with regular minutes.

But what does this mean for Blindkilde and the rest of Villa’s youngsters? In the past couple of seasons, players like Olivia McLoughlin and Freya Gregory have jostled for spots in the squad, while 17-year-old Evie Rabjohn has also been highly touted.

Given Villa seem to be in a perpetual injury crisis, it’s not necessarily that there are no longer opportunities available. Blindkilde is a great example as to how those opportunities change.

Having played as an eight for the 2022 half of the season, she was initially shunted to the right wing for Villa’s first match back against Tottenham. She resumed that role again at Manchester City, although was replaced at half-time by Alisha Lehmann. There was another start at Arsenal in their Continental Cup quarter-final loss, although this time at the base of midfield.

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Clearly, manager Ward still feels like Blindkilde is a player she can rely on. Her performances have not been poor, but it is apparent that she is far less comfortable in these unfamiliar roles. And once other players are at full fitness, will she continue to get clear game time? Could tomorrow night’s fourth-round FA Cup tie against third-tier Fylde present the ideal chance to field her talented youngsters?

Some will say that the opportunity to learn from players like Nobbs and Staniforth is an opportunity for Blindkilde to improve her game, but it is hard to believe it is valuable to the extent of not getting to play in your preferred position. Plenty of clubs are interested in a player of her pedigree who has already shown she is comfortable playing at WSL level.

Aston Villa must be wary that they don’t focus on the ‘star’ signings to the detriment of the younger players they have coming through. There is plenty of benefit to be gained from bringing in older players like Nobbs and Staniforth but sometimes a club has to weigh up its present and its future. If your short-term success is to the detriment of your future stars, you may find yourself in a rebuild stage quicker than you might imagine.

Follow Jessy on Twitter @jessyjph

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