Manchester City forward Caroline Weir FA WSL targets and the importance of grassroots football to the women’s game

Despite a tough Continental Cup match against Birmingham City, followed by an opening FA Women’s Super League encounter against rivals Chelsea, new Manchester City signing Caroline Weir tells The Offside Rule it may be a “good way to start” the new season.

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Man City’s title defence came unstuck against Marc Skinner’s Birmingham City last season and Chelsea pipped them to the FA WSL title as well as knocking them out of the FA Cup at the semi-final stage, leaving Nick Cushing’s side without a trophy.

“It’s not an easy start,” says the 23-year-old. “But the way the league is, every game is difficult. We want to hit the ground running, we know they’re challenging teams to play against and we’ll have to be at our best but we’re looking forward to it and looking forward to a new season.”

The Scotland midfielder has only been at the club a matter of months after swapping Liverpool red for Manchester blue at the end of the 2017-18 season.

Her wand of a left foot, eye for goal and deadly set-piece delivery caught the eye of Cushing and Weir impressed on the club’s pre-season tour to the USA last month, setting up both goals in the team’s most recent win against PSG.

“I’ve really enjoyed it,” she says. “It’s been really good to be involved. The trip to Miami and Portland was great and it was brilliant to get to know everyone off the pitch and play a couple of really tough games against PSG and Lyon. I think it was definitely a positive trip for us leading up to the new season.”

Weir is speaking at the renewal of McDonalds’ partnership with The FA, extending their support of grassroots football for another four years through to 2022.

With the new partnership meaning another 500,000 children will get the chance to play football over that four-year period, Weir believes continuing to grow at grassroots level is “hugely important” moving forward.

Charlie Mulgrew and Caroline Weir launch McDonald_s UK_s new football sponsorship 3

“That’s where it all begins. If children love football there should be opportunities for them to play and it was definitely important for me when I was younger and there weren’t as many opportunities as there are now.”

She adds, “If you have the talent to come through it all starts at grassroots. There’s a lot of players you can see now that are breaking into teams all around the FA WSL. As a bit more of an older player now you realise how important it is to still see young players coming through the system and at the end of the day the future of the sport is those players.”

Weir was only 10 when she joined the youth setup at Hibernian in Scotland, spending almost a decade at the Edinburgh-based club before being signed by Arsenal.

She made her debut for Scotland the same year she joined the Gunners and is already closing in on her 50th cap, something which could come at next year’s World Cup in France.

Shelley Kerr’s side have two games remaining at the end of this month in their quest to qualify for the tournament, firstly facing main rivals Switzerland before their final match in Albania.

Defeat against the Swiss earlier this year means anything but a win all but leaves them hoping for a play-off spot, whereas a home victory would still give Weir and her team mates a chance of qualifying automatically.

And off the back of a dramatic comeback in Poland, where three goals in the final 12 minutes overturned a 2-0 deficit, Weir says the team are going into the match with momentum behind them.

“Along with Switzerland away that was our toughest game in the group so far,” she says. “To go two goals down and not panic shows the spirit we have at the moment, we just don’t give up.

“Everybody wants to get to the World Cup and I think it’s the strongest Scotland squad I’ve been a part of. There’s a bit of pressure on the Switzerland game but I think we’re ready for it.”

Grassroots football certainly seems to have had a positive impact on the Scottish national side in recent years.

Aside from established top level players such as Kim Little, Jennifer Beattie, Jane Ross and Lisa Evans, Scotland also have an array of talented youngsters to call on.

23-year-old Fiona Brown is in top form for Swedish giants FC Rosengard, while forwards Claire Emslie and Erin Cuthbert have been developing into top youngsters in the FA WSL at Manchester City and Chelsea respectively.

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With more players coming through the system than ever, Weir says Scotland are “fortunate” to now be able to call on such a talented pool of players.

“Players just seem to be developing at the same time and the right time. The squad is in a strong position. There’s a few in the squad from my year group and we have a good mix of young players and experienced players who have played at the highest level.

“We wanted to play right away after the Poland game but we’ve had a bit of time away and a break to get back to pre-season but the squad will be doing everything to get in shape for that game because we know how important it is.”

With Scotland’s youngsters flourishing and Wales and England set to face-off in Newport at the end of the month, with both sides realistically having a chance of making it to France, women’s football in the UK is flourishing as England look to host Euro 2021 off the back of consecutive semi-final tournament appearances.

Weir believes there’s no better time to be investing in grassroots football in the UK at the moment as the sport continues to grow.

“The women’s game has grown so much at elite level,” she says. “The quality has improved a lot over the last decade and it’s a great time to invest in grassroots and women’s football. It’s only going to lead to better young players hopefully.”

Caroline Weir was speaking at the launch of McDonald’s UK’s new football sponsorship programme which will provide over five million hours of fun football for children across the UK by 2022. For further information visit www.mcdonalds.co.uk/football

Follow Rich at @RichJLaverty

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