An aspiring Welsh football star is one step closer to achieving her dream of playing professionally after securing top grades and landing a place with Manchester City.
Maria Francis-Jones, 18, has been selected to join City’s female football academy, where she will receive professional training while completing a degree in sport and exercise science at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Wales international Maria – who competed in the Euro qualifiers last year in Norway and is set to play at the World Cup qualifiers later this year – will play for Man City’s under 23s academy and is aiming to win a professional contract with the team by the end of 2021.
Maria, from Llanidloes in Powys, moved to Nantgarw by herself in 2019 aged 16 to join The Football Association of Wales’ (FAW) Elite Female Football Academy at Coleg y Cymoedd.
Over the last two years, her place at the academy has seen her combine daily football coaching sessions with full time study – completing a Btec sport course.
“Moving away at 16 was daunting and I was worried that I would miss home, but joining the academy was really exciting and I knew it could open up a lot of doors for me,” he said.
“I was already having to travel to South Wales twice a week to train with the FAW anyway so it made sense for me to take the next step and move over full time.
“Football has definitely been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember and I’ve always wanted to become a professional footballer.
“I love the game and couldn’t ever imagine having a ‘normal job’.
“Joining Coleg y Cymoedd and the Elite Football Academy really helped me pursue my dream. It’s enabled me to get professional training and opened up so many opportunities including playing for Wales which has been incredible.”
Despite moving to Manchester, she will continue to play for Wales, taking part in upcoming games and attending Welsh camps every two months for 10 days of training.
“I’m really excited to join Manchester City as they are one of the top teams in the country and training with them will really help me to develop as a player and become an elite athlete,” she said.
“I can’t believe I’ve got a place and cannot wait to begin playing with the team next month. While I’m starting off joining the academy, I’m hoping to sign professional contracts later this year, fingers crossed.
“I am really passionate about promoting women’s football and want more young girls to give the sport a try.
“The women’s game is without doubt growing – there are huge amounts of investments currently being put into the sport which is amazing to see.
“Dedicated female academies like the one I joined at Coleg y Cymoedd will definitely help to inspire and support more girls and women to give it a go.”