The FA have announced a major revamp of women's football with the introduction of a full-time top flight next season

Manchester City women's are one of the most successful teams in England. Credit: PA

The Football Association has announced a major revamp of the women's club pyramid, with a top tier of 14 full-time teams planned for the start of next season.

The current Women's Super League (WSL) was set up in 2011 and a second tier, Super League Two, was added in 2014 - there are 10 teams in each but several are still part-time.

Following a review of the structure, the FA now wants to make a clear distinction between full-time and part-time teams in order to raise standards and boost the popularity of women's football.

Below the new top flight will be a national league of up to 12 semi-professional sides, with the current FA Women's Premier League sitting beneath that in tiers three and four as regional competitions featuring promotion and relegation.

With the women's game still a largely part-time sport in most leading football nations, there is no disputing how big a step this would be for English women's football, particularly as it is about to replace netball as the most popular team sport for girls.

However, the news also comes at a time of uncertainty at the top of the sport after England Women's manager Mark Sampson was sacked last week for an inappropriate relationship with a player whilst in club management.

In a statement, the FA's head of women's leagues and competitions Katie Brazier said: "Providing an elite performance environment will produce more and better players, increase the interest and excitement via more competitive leagues, attract a greater number of fans and, in turn, deliver improved commercial viability for clubs and the leagues.

"The decision was made following a full review of women's and girls' football competitions and extensive and valuable dialogue with the clubs, who have been really supportive of the changes being introduced."

Steph Houghton led MCWFC to FA Cup glory last season. Credit: PA

The deadline for the 20 existing WSL clubs to apply for a place in the two new leagues is November 10 and their applications will be reviewed by the FA Women's Football Board in December.

Clubs from outside the current WSL can apply for the remaining places next March, which may give those leading men's clubs currently without a women's side a chance to join in higher up the pyramid than was previously allowed.

The FA's definition of "full-time" is a commitment to a minimum of 16 hours of training per week, plus matches, increasing to 20 hours by the 2021/22 season.

Top-flight clubs will also be expected to have academies for players aged 17 to 20 which meet minimum coaching and education standards, upgrade their player-support operations and provide business plans.

Liverpool and Everton ladies contest a derby match. Credit: PA

Clubs in the semi-professional second tier must commit to a minimum of eight hours per week of training, as well as full-time general managers and marketing officers.

The FA, for its part, has promised to continue its financial support of the women's game and the new structure will still align with the traditional football calendar.

The governing body has also revealed that research has been commissioned to look into a rebranding of the top four tiers, with an announcement on that coming soon.

Reigning Women's Super League champions Chelsea started their 2017/18 campaign on Sunday with a 6-0 win over Bristol City, while Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Sunderland also gained victories over the opening weekend.