According to The Times, the FA will this week announce plans to revolutionise pathways into the top two leagues of women’s football.
The formation of Professional Games Academies is set to rival the US college system which has seen players such as Alessia Russo leave England in favour of the training on offer over there before returning to play in the WSL.
The FA is also looking for ways that the game could be more diverse and accessible and is mindful that it has been missing out on young black talent.
Kay Cossington, the women’s technical director said, “There are players that are missing opportunity to fulfil dreams.”
She continued, “The participation numbers at the base of our game now are excellent and that’s improved even more since the summer. We now have to create a pipeline that is strong enough that we have a lot of good players coming through.”
Cossington and her team, based at St George’s Park, are working to increase participation levels further and improve talent identification by building on England women’s European Championship success last year.
More than 150,000 girls have registered to take part in the FA’s Let Girls Play “Biggest Ever Football Session” on International Women’s Day on March 8.
After the Lionesses success last year, the team and their manager, Sarina Wiegman, penned a letter to the government which pointed out that only 63% of girls are allowed to play football in school.
Cossington says, “It’s definitely got a reaction and the players won’t stop there. It’s not just one letter. There have been follow-up meetings. People are listening.”
Two of the England team, Captain Leah Williamson and Lotte Wubben-Moy, met Department of Education officials in December to discuss this further.
Cossington has seen the differences within her own children, seven-year-old twins, one girl, one boy.
“He has everything afforded to him in school, in PE they’re doing football. She’s not doing that.”
The new pathway involves up to 70 emerging talent centres (ETCs) funded by the Premier League and delivered by the FA, with numbers of participants rising from 1,722 to a planned 4,200 by the end of 2023-24.
These centres are designed to replace regional talent centres and advance coaching centres.
The number of technical staff and coaches will rise from 350 to 560. The ETCs will operate along with the new academies arriving in 2023-24.
“It’s massive,” Cossington says of the plans. “It’s the investment offering an Alessia Russo an alternative to stop her going to the US. This gap between 16s and senior football [is being addressed]. We’re trying to create a pathway that provides more and better homegrown players for club and, long term, country too. We want a really wide, diverse playing pool to service our professional game and national team.”
The FA are making forward steps with ‘Discover My Talent’, with 3,000 referrals in a year of players unknown to them previously, of which 302 were deemed talented.
“The success of the Lionesses has opened up reality to these girls, that we can work hard, be scouted, be seen, come into a talent system and we can achieve. With Discover My Talent, anyone can dream and we can support that.”
Those talented enough will head to ETC’s. Cossington highlighted United as one of the clubs that already does an excellent job of scouting girls within the local community for their Centre of Excellence.
“Before they had a senior team [in 2018], Manchester United generated player after player, like Ella Toone and Katie Zelem, because it was focused on player development. They also had an outstanding community programme, still have, which engaged those girls and got them into the player development programme. The community arm of a professional club is really important to the women’s game, which doesn’t have a big scouting network at clubs like the men’s game does.”
Cossington would also like to see more homegrown, female coaches coming through and managing in the WSL.
“For me, it is an aspiration at the professional end of our game that we give opportunity to female coaches. Without full-time coaching jobs it is hard for females to be ready for international football.”
The FA is being noticed for its work and opportunities for women in sport by other countries and by other sports but this latest announcement should further propel them into the limelight.
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