Tobin Heath’s ‘Unwavering’ Love For Arsenal Behind Decision To Play For Club
After much anticipation, United States' World Cup winner Tobin Heath will finally arrive in London this week to start her career with Arsenal, fulfilling a childhood dream to represent the team she supported as a young girl growing up in New Jersey.
Heath has yet to meet her new team-mates after signing for Arsenal on September 3, staying on in the United States while the English team began their season impressively by defeating reigning Women's Super League (WSL) champions Chelsea and coming through two qualifying rounds to reach the lucrative new group stage of the women's Champions League. After making two substitute appearances for the national team against Paraguay in the past week, Heath is set to fly into England ahead of their home match on Sunday against the FA Cup holders Manchester City.
Last season, alongside international team mate Christen Press, Heath signed a one-year contract with Manchester United Women's team, making eleven appearances, including a 1-0 victory over Arsenal, before injury brought a premature end to her season in January. After her contract in England expired on June 30, many expected her to return to play in the United States alongside Press but when English rivals Arsenal came calling, Heath could not resist the opportunity to represent the club that fueled her passion for the game she refers to as 'football' rather than 'soccer'.
"I'm a huge Arsenal fan" she revealed. "It was my first childhood club. A team that I really followed and I feel in love with at a young age. Obviously they have incredible history on the women's side as well that I'm looking forward to being a part of. I feel like in our minds we all think our club career is going to go a certain way. In the last couple of years, a change in my plans has given me opportunities that I never thought I'd be able to get and this is one of them".
The 33-year-old's childhood in New Jersey coincided with, the most successful period in Arsenal's modern soccer history, winning three Premier League titles and four FA Cups under the coaching of Arsène Wenger. When Wenger left the club in May 2018, Heath posted this tribute on Facebook "he gave me a club and a passion, I will forever be a gunner (Arsenal fan) because of him #MerciArsene". "I think it's serendipitous", she said, "the time I was becoming passionate about football and the way Arsenal was as a club. The players that were playing there, the amount of trophies that were being won was incredible. Obviously having a coach like Arsène that was completely revolutionizing the game of football, and also being successful doing it".
Speaking to the media this week, Heath expanded on this "I was attracted to the style of play, to the certain players that were playing there and, you know, your first love of a club is something that is kind of unchanging and unwavering through it all. Then, if you look on the women's side of things, I guess in the landscape of European football, they were at the forefront of women's football in creating a team, investing in a team, winning both the Champions League and the domestic league. So it's a club that it's easy to be passionate about and one that is really deep in my heart and in my history of football".
With coverage of soccer in the United States during the 1990s limited to the top men's teams, Heath realizes her choices were shaped by what was on offer to viewers at the time which did not include women's soccer. "Even when I first started watching football, it wasn't even available in the United States, so the landscape has completely changed. I feel like with the global market of football in general, the two teams that entered into the United States landscape were Manchester United and Arsenal, in terms of our understanding of the Premier League and their marketing strategy getting into the United States. Women's soccer wasn't even a thought when these big teams started coming into our market and games were starting to appear".
"I wish that now - the way that everything's so readily available - I wish I had that as a kid because the type of effort it took to find videos and highlights and all that was insanely difficult, but totally worth it. Now, it's just so readily available. Then, if you look at the landscape of women's football and how that is appearing now, it's still super-difficult, it's super-difficult to find women's games. I find it incredibly frustrating. We have World Cup qualifiers going on and I have no idea where to find some of these games".
Heath may feature in this weekend's game against Manchester City, a match that will be broadcast live on Sky Sports in England and around the world on various platforms. "At a club level, a really positive thing was the WSL signing with Sky Sports. I think it's absolutely incredible. It's a massive TV deal for women's football. That's going to completely change the landscape of football over in England and I just think it needs to be easier to find, easier to watch because there's a really good product being shown right now on the field".
For now, she will have her first face-to-face meeting with new Arsenal coach Jonas Eidevall who has led the team to five successive victories at the start of the English season. "With Jonas we had a great first conversation, about his vision for the team, his style of play, about how he runs his practices, the things that are important to him. You can already tell that the team is in a much different kind of mentality and frame of mind going into this season, I think, than the prior one which is credit to him coming in and implementing his ideas in a quick way. So I'm really excited to get in there and see what that's going to be like".
With international players from twelve different countries around the world, fans are impatient to see how Heath will fit into their star-studded squad and not least her prospective partnership with Dutch phenomenon, Vivianne Miedema, the scorer of 102 goals for the club in just 105 games. "They're an incredibly talented team. It's actually ridiculous the talent it has. Talent is only worth so much, obviously there's a lot that goes into a team being great. I've obviously played (at Portland Thorns) with Steph (Catley) and with Caitlin (Foord) who are great players, great team-mates so that's easy and obviously against all the other internationals who I just have a huge amount of respect for. So in terms of getting into that locker room, I'm excited to be challenged and I'm excited to have to work hard and to perform day in and day out to be a part of a squad that's really ambitious to win a lot".