ALTHOUGH there has never been a better time for a young female footballer to aim for a professional career, the streets of London and Manchester are not – so far anyway – paved with gold.

England internationalists on FA central contracts which are topped up by their clubs are making a good living, some touching the six-figure salaries which are paid to exceptional imported players. Also among the very top earners is Scotland’s Kim Little, whose return to Arsenal from Seattle Reign in 2017 made her, reputedly, the best paid British footballer in the Women’s Super League.

But, for the vast majority, it’s a different story. Kevin Murphy, who on Friday was appointed first-team manager at Hearts in addition to his other responsibilities, knows from his time at Manchester City that wages are, in general, still very low.

“A Birmingham City player or a Bristol City player, say, is probably earning between something like £16,000-£22,000,” he said of two WSL clubs. Even with accommodation thrown in, the flat whites and lattes have to be rationed.

Which is why – although Hearts are not as yet offering professional contracts – Murphy’s club announced a tie-up with Edinburgh Napier University during the week. It has similarities with the national performance academy at Heriot Watt in that it offers Hearts players a dual career pathway tailored to both their football and academic studies.

“At Manchester City [England goalkeeper] Karen Bardsley was doing a Master’s degree,” Murphy pointed out. “Even at one of the best clubs in Europe they were trying to look after players in terms of what they would do at the end of their careers. Clubs have a duty to look after the players’ welfare after football, not just the here and now.”

As Murphy confirmed, the vast majority of the 23 players in Scotland’s World Cup squad last summer had degrees, some dating back to the performance academy when it was based at Stirling. For these players it was more of a requirement than an add-on, because until very recently the opportunities to play professional football were minimal.

The obvious danger is that the top young players, lured by fast-growing opportunities, may decide further education is unnecessary. That would be a potentially catastrophic mistake.

As Aston Villa’s appointment of Eni Aluko as the club’s first-ever women’s sporting director confirms, there will be increasingly prestigious jobs for ex-players. But the 32-year-old wasn’t appointed because she played for England – she’s a highly qualified lawyer.

At Chelsea, Erin Cuthbert is studying for a degree in her own time, including evenings. Given her club and exceptional ability it can be assumed she is on a decent wage – but even at 21 she is shrewd enough to realise it will never be a life-changing one.

THE Pinatar Arena in Murcia is becoming a surrogate home venue for Scotland. Shelley Kerr and her players return to the Spanish coastal town in March to play Ukraine, Iceland and Northern Ireland.

Last April Scotland drew with Chile and, memorably, beat Brazil 1-0 in friendlies there. In 2018 they played Russia and New Zealand (twice). Five games, resulting in three wins and two draws.

Next up on March 4 is Ukraine. They’re No.27 in the Fifa rankings, five behind Scotland, and won both games when the nations were in the same qualifying group for Euro 2009. Kerr was in the side which lost 1-0 at McDiarmid Park – as were Jo Love, Little, and Jen Beattie.

Nevertheless, it’s a game Scotland should win. The second, against Iceland three days later, is more unpredictable. The sides have met seven times since 2005, with three wins apiece and one draw. The final Pinatar Cup game is against Northern Ireland on March 10. And Kerr believes it will be good preparation for the Euro 2021 qualifiers against Cyprus and Portugal the following month.

CELTIC’S first competitive game under new manager Fran Alonso will be against SBS SWPL2 side Glasgow Women on February 9. The draw for the four-team group stage was made yesterday, with Spartans and St Johnstone also involved.

The new-look Rangers side was drawn with Hamilton Accies, Dundee Utd and Queen’s Park.

Last season’s SBS SWPL1 winners Glasgow City, and runners-up, Hibernian, received byes into the knock-out stages. Hibs also go into the new season with a new head coach, Dean Gibson having been promoted from within to replace Grant Scott.