Born in Portugal to parents who originated from Angola, Maria’s early sporting experiences were through athletics in her local community where she enjoyed running. “My life was really different in Portugal; I started doing athletics as my uncle was friends with a running coach,” Maria says. “There weren’t really any footballing opportunities in Portugal for girls like there are here.”
Alongside her five siblings, Maria and her parents moved to the UK once she reached the age of 10, something she admits was challenging for the whole family given the complex language barriers:
“My life changed for the better when we moved to the UK but for my parents it was a real struggle, mainly with not knowing the language. It motivated me to learn quicker so that I could help them and my other siblings.”
Completely self-taught in English, Maria’s determination and perseverance paid off and with the family now settled in Tameside, it’s hard to believe that she didn’t originate from the local area.
Her first experience of football came from her education at a Foundation partner school in Tameside: “I’d never really played football; it was only when the Foundation put on a session in my school and I met our United coach that I started to realise that I was alright,” Maria says. “We had a competitive game for the school and I scored a hat-trick. After that my coach asked me if I wanted to trial for the United girls’ team.”
Maria has never looked back since, winning an FA Youth Cup runner-up medal and playing on the hallowed turf of Old Trafford in her two seasons with the club. She credits the Foundation for giving her the opportunity to play a sport she now loves, alongside her family and team-mates for supporting her along the way.
“If the Foundation wasn’t in my school I would’ve never played football or been given the opportunity to play for Manchester United; I’ve made loads of friends and I am a much more confident person as a result.”