Tobin Heath tells Jessy Parker Humphreys what attracted her to the Red Devils, and why her sights were set overseas on the WSL.
When Manchester United reformed their women’s team in 2018, few would have predicted that within two years they would have signed not one, but two World Cup winners. Clearly, the pull of Old Trafford reaches all genders.
“Manchester United’s history speaks for itself,” said Tobin Heath, speaking for the first time since her arrival.
“It’s so important for clubs with all this tradition, history, power and influence – it’s huge for them to have a women’s team.”
“Any footballer’s dream would be to play for Manchester United.”
Tobin Heath’s history speaks for herself.
Two World Cups. Two Olympic Gold medals. One NWSL MVP award and three more inclusions in their Best XI.
Yet this move is a huge departure for her. It will be only the second season Heath has spent away from Portland Thorns since the team was established in the NWSL in 2013.
“Portland is my home. It’s been my home since the beginning of the NWSL and I have such incredible memories there, both on and off the field.”
“Any time that you have to leave an environment that is ultimately perfect for you isn’t easy. But you have to be uncomfortable as a football player.”
It is testament to how far the Women’s Super League has developed that a player of Heath’s pedigree sees it as a place where she can push herself.
“In terms of my ambition to play overseas – I actually wanted to come here. Not necessarily now – obviously the circumstances are a big reason for that – but it is a league that I’ve had my eye on.”
“As soon as there was interest from [Manchester United], and I learned about their programme and their process, learned about the team… it was a project that I was very much interested in.”
It is no surprise that United seem like an attractive prospect at present.
“I was really drawn in by the manager Casey Stoney and her reputation – what I had heard about her,” says Heath. “When I was first asking about the club, it was incredible how highly she was spoken of.”
Stoney has been a managerial revelation. Aside from a couple of months as a player-manager at Chelsea a decade ago, Manchester United was her first senior position. She has demonstrated herself to be tactically astute – recently raining on Chelsea’s opening game parade by holding them to a draw – as well as getting the best out of players like Leah Galton and Katie Zelem.
“Any time you get to work for a manager, you feel like you want to absorb as much as possible and learn and grow, and that’s what I’m here to do.”
“The way she’s mobilised this team in the last few years is really powerful. It’s a testament to her and her devotion to the club.”
“It’s a young, ambitious programme,” elaborates Heath. “Becoming more familiar with the team, it was something I felt like I could really come here, build upon, help out and grow.”
“I think it shows with the club bringing over Christen [Press] and I that they are very ambitious and that they want to compete now. They don’t want to wait. And that’s exactly what I look to do.”
For Manchester United, competing will look like pushing for one of the top three spots that have been held by Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal for the past five seasons.
“The top teams are the top teams for a reason,” says Heath, musing over United’s chances. “They have incredible, deep rosters of talented players. They’ve worked really hard to establish themselves, but there’s no right to win anything. You have to deserve it.”
“If those teams are going to win, you have to force them to deserve to win.”
The depth of those teams have been strengthened further by the other American arrivals in the league – notably, Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle at Manchester City, and Alex Morgan at Tottenham.
“We compete against each other, and with each other, all the time. It’s something we’re very familiar with.”
Yet Heath is looking beyond the star names when it comes to playing in the WSL.
“In terms of the competition, every single team has been strengthened, and strengthened a lot. I think every game is going to be competitive. It’s not just going to be about playing against big teams. We’re going to have to show up for every single match in order to put ourselves in a position where we want to be, come the end of the season.”
With Heath and Press leading the line, don’t bet against Manchester United getting exactly what they are aiming for.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph