‘As an Amer­i­can, to be able to put on a United shirt is re­ally spe­cial’

Tobin Heath idolised the English game when grow­ing up, now she is set­tling in by build­ing a Lego model of Old Traf­ford

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport / Football - By Luke Ed­wards

Tobin Heath grew up watch­ing the Premier League and is al­ready feel­ing the weight of his­tory that comes with the Manch­ester United shirt she will wear in the Women’s Su­per League, but the United States in­ter­na­tional con­tin­ues to be­lieve in the in­grained su­pe­ri­or­ity of her na­tional team.

Heath is one of sev­eral high-pro­file US in­ter­na­tion­als to have signed for WSL teams this sea­son as there was lit­tle chance to play club football back home, ahead of next sum­mer’s Olympics in Tokyo, be­cause of the coro­n­avirus sit­u­a­tion.

United have signed Heath and Chris­ten Press, Manch­ester City have brought in Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis, while Alex Mor­gan has signed for Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur. All five were mem­bers of the US squad that beat Eng­land on the way to win­ning the World Cup last year.

Although the pres­ence of so many of their best play­ers in Eng­land is a coup for the WSL, Heath con­tin­ues to be­lieve the US re­main the best in­ter­na­tional side.

“I’m not wor­ried at all,” said Heath, 32, who has won both the Olympics and World Cup twice and is widely re­garded as one of her coun­try’s all-time best with 168 in­ter­na­tional ap­pear­ances. “I think our league [NWSL] in the US is [still the best]. But in terms of the growth of the global game, I think the com­pe­ti­tion of in­ter­na­tional football is only go­ing to go up and [the US] is only go­ing to con­tinue to be chal­lenged. And that’s what you want, es­pe­cially in terms of the US team – it’s grow, or die, and that’s how it should be. But with com­pe­ti­tion comes more re­sources, more ta­lent. I only ex­pect it to be harder and harder.

“In terms of the growth of this league over here, it’s only go­ing to help their na­tional team. If they can bring over top play­ers and they’re com­pet­ing against and with top play­ers, and they’re also de­vel­op­ing their pool, it’s go­ing to be mas­sive for them. That’s why you in­vest in leagues and in your na­tional game. The com­pe­ti­tion all over the world is get­ting scary. In terms of the US, I know for a fact that the US will al­ways be at the fore­front of that. Be­cause of their in­vest­ment in their women’s game, both do­mes­ti­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally.”

Heath, who has bought a Lego model of Old Traf­ford to build while she ad­justs to life in the UK, used to watch tapes of English football as a child and has ful­filled a child­hood dream in play­ing for United – even if she is an Arse­nal fan.

“I def­i­nitely thought it [play­ing in Eng­land] would hap­pen. It was in my mind,” she said. The [United] badge is huge. It’s huge in the US for a football player. It’s all I kind of knew in terms of football and how I was re­ally in­tro­duced to the game was the EPL [Premier League]. So yes, I would say that when I put on my first Man United train­ing kit, it felt enor­mous in a way that was re­ally spe­cial in kind of like a child­hood dream type way. We don’t have that his­tory in the US. So, to be able to put on a shirt like that as an Amer­i­can was re­ally spe­cial.

“All of my football, even my in­tro­duc­tion, even my coaches, most of them came from Europe, par­tic­u­larly Eng­land. So pretty much my whole foot­balling ed­u­ca­tion and in­tro­duc­tion was through English football. And when TV rights started be­com­ing more prom­i­nent in the US, it was ob­vi­ously some­thing as a football fan that was just a dream to be able to watch.

Heath chose United be­cause they rep­re­sent both the tra­di­tion of the game in Eng­land, but also its bright fu­ture. “It’s a young am­bi­tious pro­gramme,” Heath added. “They’re only a few years old, I was re­ally drawn in by the man­ager Casey Stoney and her rep­u­ta­tion and what I had heard about her. Then, be­com­ing more fa­mil­iar with the team, that was some­thing I felt like I could re­ally come here and build upon and help out and learn and grow.

“When Manch­ester United came [formed a women’s team] into the league I remember say­ing, ‘Wow, this is huge’. It’s so im­por­tant for clubs with all this tra­di­tion, his­tory, power in­flu­ence, it’s huge for them to have a women’s team. It’s so en­cour­ag­ing for the global game at large.”

Big name: Tobin Heath has played 168 times for the United States

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