Natasha Harding: Wales forward calls for more FAW funding

Wales and Manchester City forward Natasha Harding
Natasha Harding signed for Manchester City in March 2015 after being denied a visa to join Washington Spirit

Central contracts must be adopted by the women's game in Wales to ensure the national side can challenge the world's best, says forward Natasha Harding.

Such a funding system was introduced by England in 2009, with 27 players on yearly deals worth up to about £26,000.

"They've helped England for the players to go part-time in work and train full-time," said Harding, one of only two full-time players in the Wales squad.

"Hopefully this is an area the FA of Wales will look at after the Euros."

The FAW, who will receive at least £5.8m in prize money from the men's team's appearance at Euro 2016, has declined to respond to Harding's comments.

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But the 26-year-old, who plays for Manchester City in the Women's Super League (WSL), says the governing body needs to show its commitment to the women's game by moving towards a central contract system.

"The girls have worked hard enough to get recognised and put ourselves in a position where we can ask the question of central contracts," she told BBC Wales Sport.

"The FA were willing to invest. If we are going to take our women's side seriously, and I know the FAW does, it's an area we need to look at to reach the next level.

"Hopefully the FAW will consider it within the next two or three years."

Since central funding was introduced by England, the national team has risen from eighth to fifth in the Fifa world rankings and finished third at the 2015 World Cup.

In addition to the funding from the Football Association, England players in the Women's Super League can earn up to about £35,000 from their clubs.

Harding and Jess Fishlock, who plays for Seattle Reign in the National Women's Soccer League in the United States, are Wales' only professionals.

They have been instrumental in a gradual improvement for the national side that has taken them from 54th in the world to their current ranking of 36th over the past eight years.

Qualification for the finals of a major tournament still eludes them, though, and Harding feels central contracts would greatly improve their hopes of breaking that duck.

"We showed how much we have developed under [former manager] Jarmo Matikainen and hopefully the same thing can be done under [current manager] Jayne Ludlow," she said.

"But for us to be able to compete against Norway, Austria, Sweden and England we need central contracts.

"I'm not saying it would happen overnight but it would give us the tools we need to progress."