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Manchester United apply to form professional women’s team

A boy displays a Manchester United flag prior to the UEFA Super Cup football match between Real Madrid and Manchester United on August 8, 2017, at the Philip II Arena in Skopje. / AFP PHOTO / ARMEND NIMANI (Photo credit should read ARMEND NIMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

Criticized for being out of step in only running senior men’s football teams, leading English club Manchester United have moved a step closer to forming a professional women’s side.

One of the richest and most popular teams in world soccer — Forbes estimates its value at over $2 billion — United has submitted an application to English football’s governing body the Football Association to enter the second tier of the Women’s Super League (WSL2).

Though other major English clubs such as Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool have successful full-time women’s teams, United had until now resisted calls to reform the women’s team they disbanded in 2005.

In January, England women’s manager Phil Neville said he would discuss the matter with his former club, saying he would be “encouraging them” to launch a team.

Over recent years senior figures at the club had said their preference was to focus all resources on the men’s first team.

But last August the club said it was “monitoring the situation” and on Wednesday United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward said on the club’s official website: “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 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.”

Despite not having a senior women’s team, United had continued to run a women’s section for junior age groups, working with local schools and community groups through the United foundation.

Woodward added: “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 FA received 15 applications to join the revamped top two tiers of women’s football for the 2018-19 season before the March 9 deadline. Nine vacancies are available.

Successful applicants will not be named by the FA until the end of May.

Next season the WSL2 will be rebranded as the Women’s Championship.