Aston Villa have confirmed the signing of West Ham forward Alisha Lehmann as they look to build on last season’s debut year in the WSL under the leadership of new manager Carla Ward.
Villa survived relegation on the final day of the 2020/21 season, consolidating their place in the WSL following their previous promotion from the Women’s Championship.
Ward, who has impressed during managerial spells at Sheffield United and Birmingham to date, crossed the second city rivalry almost as soon as the season was over. Ward’s Blues had arguably punched above their weight just to remain in the top flight in difficult circumstances and Villa didn’t miss an opportunity to hire one of the English game’s best young coaches.
The new boss has been tipped to bring some of her old Birmingham players with her to Villa, which could include incredibly talented young England goalkeeper Hannah Hampton, but the first name through the door is Switzerland international Lehmann.
The 22-year-old has been one of the most popular players in the WSL since her arrival in England in 2018. She has 3.2m Instagram followers and featured in both BBC reality series that put a camera lens on the Hammers’ development in women’s football. But she is also an extremely talented player and a fresh start as a focal point with Villa may be just what she needs.
Lehmann spent the second half of last season on loan at Everton and there will already be big expectation on her to help significantly sharpen Villa’s attacking edge.
“Alisha comes with both experience and an unbelievable amount of potential. At 22, Alisha has already shown in recent seasons that she can light up any WSL game,” Ward told AVFC.co.uk.
“I’m delighted she’s put pen to paper and I’m looking forward to working with her. Alisha’s a really exciting addition to the group.”
Before leaving the club in May to accept the offer of a new role at Angel City in Los Angeles, former Villa director of football Eniola Aluko told 90min that simply staying in the WSL had been the priority for the 2020/21 season but explained recruitment would be crucial in taking the next step.
“We had a lot of players that transitioned from semi-professional to professional and a lot of players who transitioned from playing in the Championship to playing in the best league in the world. That is not an easy transition,” Aluko explained.
The former England striker likened the planned development to that of Villa’s men, who narrowly survived in the Premier League on the final day of the 2019/20 season but then went on to enjoy a very promising rise up the table the very campaign.
“I think for next season (2021/22) the club will have to invest to bring in players who can take it up to another level and start pushing towards mid-table, similar to how the men’s team have,” Aluko said of the next set of objectives for Villa’s women.
“The men’s team just about stayed up [in 2020] and this season the recruitment has been brilliant in terms of pushing them to another level as a mid-table side. It’s an incremental growth.”