Anya Donelan and Mollie Rouse are two of the 16 players participating in the second series of Ultimate Goal at BT Sport, where young hopefuls competed for a chance to play in front of scouts from women’s teams around the world in an attempt to become the next woman’s football star.
Both Donelan and Rouse had several years of experience playing college football in the United States before entering the Ultimate Goal process in an attempt to make their mark at home.
It is a path that is not uncommon among emerging English talents, which gives players a different weight in their development than if they only trained and played at home.
Emerging senior England internationals such as Alessia Russo and Lotte Wubben-Moy have both returned home from American college periods in recent years, while the most famous example is 2020 FIFA laureate Lucy Bronze, who spent part of 2009 training and playing for the legendary University of North Carolina Tar Heels.
Donelan, who spent two years each playing at Monroe College and the University of Akron, and Rouse, who attended the University of Louisville and later the University of Central Florida, agreed that the American mentality and focus on the physical side helped develop another edge on their game.
“Being in America, the style is very different,” Donelan told 90min. “The way they play and their philosophy is different. The team I was in was very focused, very forward and quite aggressive and physical, which I had not really been used to before I left.
“As a small player, I definitely wanted to improve my physicality, strength and power, so going to America definitely benefited me. They have a huge emphasis on fitness as well, so I definitely got a lot more active out there, did a lot of workouts and stuff.
“I’m glad I added that element to my game because I was already a pretty technical player, so adding that physically was definitely useful.”
Rouse added that the young player is learning off the field and the different approach helps to lay crucial foundations for an upcoming professional career.
“The other side of it, off the field, the discipline they drill into you and being so far away from home, you learn a lot about yourself because you do not have that support network next to you, so you have to start solving things yourself,” he explained. Rouse to 90min.
“I think it definitely developed that feeling in me too. It is very fitness-oriented and you get up at 06.00 and lift [weights] in the morning. These are things I did not encounter until I went to America and you are literally treated like a pro every day.
“The facilities are incredible, so you get into that professional thinking and I feel that it has really helped me as a player because I learned that element without actually being a professional. I could learn to be a professional without pressure. ”
Anya Donelan has adapted to play football with half vision / BT Sport
Donelan is a defender and was inspired to apply for series two of Ultimate Goal after seeing the first on television. She was born with a hemangioma that affects her left eye, which has meant that she has been without most of her vision in that eye for most of her life.
“Because I have not been used to having that vision on that side, I was used to it and I do not know really differently. I do not know if it affects my game, but it is just something I have become accustomed to and adapted me to over the years, she explained.
A Manchester United fan who is “proud” to see the development of a Red Devils women’s team, Donelan is also fascinated by crime and criminology, and studies it as his degree alongside playing football, even if the reality, she says, is “very different”. from what you see on TV.
“I have always had an interest in fighting for equal rights and I believe in many things like that gender deserves equal pay,” she added. “When it comes to justice, I have a strong passion for it. I would like to try to keep communities safe and fight crime.
Mollie Rouse is a midfielder who looks up to Keira Walsh / BT Sport
Rouse plays in midfield and before Ultimate Goal, England had already competed more than 60 times in various age groups from U15 to U21 level, including winning a bronze medal at the U20 World Cup 2018 as a teammate of Georgia Stanway and Lauren Hemp.
While in America, she trained under the guidance of former UWSNT star, World Cup winner and Olympic champion, Tiffany Roberts. When she returned to England, she got a contract at the Women’s Championship club Lewes, where she saw “great values” appear and has since signed professional contracts with the London City Lionesses, but still dreams of playing in the WSL and for England.
Rouse especially looks up to Manchester City midfielder Keira Walsh because of their similar roles on the pitch and is inspired by what the English national team player has achieved.
“She’s not that much older than me so it’s one of those where you can really be like ‘this is where I need to be’, and she’s really developed her games over the last few years – look at her now, she’s doing incredible things, ”the player explained.
“The quality of the final 16 that we have is significantly higher.”
– Rachel Brown-Finnis, Ultimate Goal coach
Ex-England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis is one of the Ultimate Goal coaches, returning from the first series, and believes that the standard of the players in the new series is even better.
“The quality level this time is much, much higher than it was last year. There is no discredit for the players who joined the program last year,” Brown-Finnis told 90min.
“We had a current English national team player who was at St George’s Park [during filming] go and chat with one of their former teammates who was part of the Ultimate Goal Academy this series – they played together for England U-20. It just gives you an insight into the quality of the players we have. “
Ultimate Goal series two premieres on BT Sport 3 on Tuesday, November 2 at 10.15 pm, with episodes to be broadcast over the next five weeks on Tuesdays on BT Sport. All six episodes from series two will be available to watch via the BT Sport app from Wednesday 3 November.
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