From the football pitches of Dubai Sports City in the UAE, 17-year-old Ruby Linton has nabbed herself a full four-year scholarship to study and play NCAA Division I soccer at Bowling Green University in Ohio.
The teenage Brit is the first UAE-based player to pull off such an achievement and she’s done it under the guidance of the coaches of Spanish Soccer School, spearheaded by Real Madrid and Spanish legend Michel Salgado.
“It’s one of my proudest days since I retired from football,” Salgado told Sport360 regarding Linton’s scholarship.
“We’ve been working in this academy for five years and when I came here my first dream was to see, in the next years to come, players and students, with a real opportunity to become professionals. And Ruby is the perfect example right now.
“It’s a turning point for our academy. She’s getting a full scholarship in the US to play football, it means a lot. She will have the chance to study for free and at the same time she will be challenged to try to become a professional footballer in the biggest country for female football right now in the world.
“So for me it’s been hard work, from the coaches, from the system we have here, and to be honest we are really happy because she’s showing us the path, she’s an example for the rest of the players we have in our academy.”
Linton took up football when she was 12 years old, first playing for Wimbledon FC in England, before moving to Sweden and eventually Dubai four years ago.
The GEMS World Academy student caught the eye of Salgado and other coaches at Spanish Soccer School and they decided to have her join the boys’ teams to accelerate her progress.
“At times it’s quite tough because it’s obviously quite physical. But I like that anyway because they help me get stronger and quicker on the ball and that’s one of the aspects that helped me get this scholarship because they almost helped me improve twice as fast to try and keep up with them,” explains Linton.
“They’re all welcoming, they accept me as a player, and they just treat me like I’m one of them, and so do the coaches as well.”
Originally from Kingston upon Thames in southwest London, Linton first picked up the sport by kicking about a tennis ball with the boys at her school.
She idolises American striker, Olympic gold medallist and World Cup champion Alex Morgan as well as Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.
With the help of the coaches at Spanish Soccer School and under the new Study ‘N’ Play initiative pioneered by The Royal Emirates Sports Academy (TRESA) that has taken over a range of Dubai Sports City operations, Linton created a profile for herself to apply for American universities then flew to the United States to showcase her skills to coaches there.
“Bear in mind that she’s a girl, in football, in the UAE, in this world, she’s not in the US,” said Salgado.
“I don’t have any doubt about the technical ability that she has. From the first moment we saw her, all the coaches, we were talking about her and said she’s got a lot of potential to play professional football.
“So our real challenge is, throughout the years she has spent in the academy, we made sure that we could get her into the right mindset to become not only a great football player in terms of technical ability but in terms of mindset for competition. So we started to use Ruby for all the development squads, with the boys.”
Salgado admits that pitting her against the boys was not an easy decision but it is one he feels has definitely paid off.
“To be honest she was brave enough since the first moment to show the boys that she’s really good and she’s going to compete and up to the level to not let down the boys,” he says.
“For five years she’s been competing with the boys all the time and that’s the real thing, the technical ability is there, but physicality is the one thing she had to learn – how to deal with the physicality with the boys. Not only in training sessions but what’s going to happen in competitions against other boys? But at the same time it was a great lesson for her, she learned a lot and was up to the level and she’s never been afraid of any challenge, any game, any rival.
“And that’s why I think she’s ready to go in professional football as far as she wants. If she pushes herself as hard as she did here, I think she’ll be ready to make her dreams come true.”
Linton hopes to pursue a professional career in football after university, and dreams of representing England one day.
But first, she is focused on her next four years at Bowling Green, where she plans on studying design.
“I’m extremely excited to go and play for them and hopefully win the National Championship,” she says.
The Ohio university has committed $30,000 per year for four years to cover Linton’s complete academic and sporting education. Salgado and his team of coaches are hoping to prepare her mentally for the big move to the States.
“Obviously the first year is going to be shocking for her, because the system in the US, in female football, is pretty massive. And she’ll have the responsibility to prove to the university that she is of value and that the value they are paying is worth it,” says the Spaniard.
“That responsibility, and that pressure, I told her is the one that you need to become a professional footballer. Professional football is about that, dealing with the pressure every single day and that’s something she’ll have to learn when she arrives to the US.
“But I know Ruby, she’s got a good personality and she’s got a good brain as well. I have no doubt about Ruby.”
Salgado believes the fact that Linton managed to get a scholarship to play NCAA Division I soccer can be a real inspiration for other young girls here in the UAE.
“Female football is growing a lot worldwide. Maybe in the past it was impossible to watch on TV a female World Cup, now it’s followed by so many fans around the world. So there’s no doubt about its growth and I even feel it here in the UAE, women’s football is growing among Arab girls,” he says.
“The Egyptian girls they play well. You can see a big number of girls who want to play football. Obviously for me it’s amazing. It’s a challenge for us in these countries but it’s worth it to push it.
“Ruby is the first one in the UAE to say ‘girls, it’s possible if you work hard, if you believe in yourself, the system will allow you to go and play football’.
“So for female football in the UAE it’s very important what Ruby has achieved.”
The magnitude of the achievement is not lost on Linton who says: “It’s really quite humbling and I’m fully aware of the significance – this is a dream come true.”
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