Welsh teen kickstarts her soccer dream after scoring place with Manchester City
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, considered to be one of the best women’s teams in the country.
Eighteen-year-old Maria Francis-Jones 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, which she will start in September.
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, with Maria having just passed her BTEC sport course with a distinction, distinction, merit.
Maria says she has always had a love of football. Growing up on a farm in rural Mid Wales, she says her family would always find her kicking a ball on the fields. At 10, she joined a girls’ club in her local town before being scouted a few years later by the FAW to play for Wales’ Under 15s squad.
After completing her GCSEs and leaving school, she made the decision to give a career in football a real go and chose to move to South Wales to join Coleg y Cymoedd’s academy.
Maria said: “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. 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.”
During her course, Maria lived in a host house with five other girls at the academy, receiving training from the professional coaches at the college while playing with a number of local teams including Cardiff City. Her place on the squad led to her also securing a spot on Wales’s national senior team where she won her first cap last year.
At the end of her course Maria was looking for a new team to join and, through college tutors, was put in touch with Man City who offered her a place. Despite moving to Manchester, Maria will continue to play for Wales, taking part in upcoming games and attending Welsh camps every two months for 10 days of training.
Maria is now looking to encourage more women to consider playing football and has taken on the role of an ambassador for the FAW which will see her attend primary and secondary schools to give presentations on the sport and her experience of the game.
Maria added: “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.
“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.”