Manchester United are set to form a professional women's team and have submitted an application to the Football Association to enter a side into the second tier of the Women's Super League.
The team would be based at The Cliff training ground. In a statement posted on the club's official website on Wednesday, chief executive Ed Woodward that it would be built in the same image as the men's team:
"We are pleased to announce that the club intends to establish its first-ever professional women's team and has submitted an application to enter WSL2.
"The FA has provided excellent support through the process and we believe that launching a team in WSL2 would give many more of our graduates from the Regional Talent Club the chance to establish themselves as first-team players.
"The Manchester United women's team must be built in the same image and with the same principles as the men's first team and offer academy players a clear route to top-level football within the club."
The Red Devils are the only Premier League side not to have a senior women's team. As a result, they have been criticized for not being involved in the professional women's game:
Television pundit Ian Wright recently said he found it difficult to understand why the club did not have a women's team, per Sky Sports' The Debate programme (via Mikael McKenzie of the Daily Express).
England women's head coach Phil Neville, a longtime Red Devils player, said that he would encourage United to start a team, per BBC Sport:
United appear to be rectifying the situation, although the team might start off as part time rather than a professional side, according to women's football writer Rich Laverty:
However, they should be able to gain a licence so long as they meet the FA's criteria, per Laverty:
The club is still a long way behind rivals such as Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea. City are on course to reach the semi-finals of the UEFA Women's Champions League after a 2-0 win over Swedish side Linkopings in the first leg of their quarter-final clash.
Nick Cushing's side were crowned Women's Super League champions in 2016 and won the FA Women's Cup in 2017. Arsenal have won the league twice, and Chelsea were champions in 2015 and 2017.
Sports presenter Jacqui Oatley said young girls could now realistically dream of playing for Manchester United:
The club's move into professional women's football is long overdue. However, the decision to finally make such a move is a sign of progress.
A Manchester United women's team would increase the sport's profile, and the Red Devils will be hoping to build a squad that can compete at the highest level.