From Hibs to Real Madrid: Caroline Weir reflects on incredible journey as Scotland star eyes second World Cup appearance
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“I played for Hibs from the ages 12 to 18. They were such important years, developing my game and growing my confidence. Being exposed to a higher level early on when I was quite young really helped,” said Caroline Weir, the crown jewel of the Scottish national team, who made a life’s dream a reality this summer with a move to Real Madrid. “Hibs are my second team after Dunfermline so I always look out for them.”
The 27-year-old took the plunge this summer to move abroad for the first time in her professional career after the Spanish giants became infatuated with her sparkling play for Manchester City over recent seasons. After leaving Hibs as a teenager she moved to Arsenal and then Bristol Academy, not entirely establishing herself at either before a 2016 move to Liverpool. Since then her career has steadily ascended and if there’s anyone in the Scottish women’s game who deserves the “world class” tag, it’s certainly her.
Following her signing this summer she posted a grainy video of herself playing keepy-uppies as a child, decked out in a full Madrid kit from the early noughties with No.5 – belonging to the legendary Zinedine Zidane – on her back. And things could hardly have got off to a better start. She’s netted in four of her last five games at club level, including providing two assists to go along with her effort in a 3-0 win over Athletic Bilbao and the only goal of the game as she defeated her old club City in the Champions League.
But how is she adapting to life in a new city? A new country? How’s her Spanish coming along?
"Slowly,” she said with a hesitant smile. “It's coming along. I'm obviously learning but it takes time. I'm still adjusting to life, I'm learning a new language, it's a new culture, so there's a lot going on. The language is a massive challenge but it's a challenge I was up for and excited for.
"It is different for me because it is a different structure. At City it was a different way of playing. At Madrid I have a slightly different role and I feel that I have come with lots of experience and it is great to be part of a team who really want to go and achieve things. I think it has taken my game and my leadership up to another level.
“It has gone better than I would have thought. We have won loads of games and I have been scoring so it has been good. The Champions League and league has given us a good run of form and it has been a positive start. I am just trying to maintain those levels and see what happens.
“I’ve been recognised once or twice. It is a massive club, obviously, and being part of that definitely gives you a sense of it. The whole city is Madrid fans and they are really passionate about their football and about Real Madrid. You can definitely feel that. They love it.
"I'm not sure even I would have expected things to go the way they've gone. I feel lucky that's the way my career has gone – but also the way the women's game has gone, it has grown so much and continues to grow. Breaking loads of records and, yeah, it's a really cool thing to be part of."
On the recent creation of the Capital Cup between Hearts and her old side Hibs, as well as a commitment for derbies to be played at Tynecastle and Easter Road, she added: “It's massive. Playing at the bigger stadiums is good for the game as well. It obviously happens a lot down south. It allows fans to come and watch and grow the fan bases. In Scotland the game is growing season on season and becoming more professional. It will help the national team as well.”
Ah yes, the reason Weir is back in town. Scotland face the Republic of Ireland tonight with a possibility victory will see them qualify directly for the next World Cup in Australia in 2023. Results have to go their way for that to happen, but there will still be a play-off route should Pedro Martinez Losa’s side take care of business at Hampden Park.
Having represented Scotland at both the 2017 Euros and 2019 World Cup, Weir has a taste for the biggest stage and is determined to help her side reach that goal – especially following the national team’s disappointing failure to reach the European Championships in England this past summer.
"Having been at these tournaments it makes you want it more,” said Weir, who scored the winner in Scotland’s only victory at a major tournament thus far, the 1-0 triumph over Spain in the final group game in 2017.
"It was tough to take not being at the Euros. Seeing all the prep that went into it and I was at City where everyone was buzzing for the six months before it. It was great for the English players but you want to be part of it and I think we all have that drive to be at another tournament.
“Nobody has a right of passage to be there. It's tough. If we win tomorrow night we deserve to be there.
"On paper we've got a good strong squad and it's just whether we can perform on the day, It's going to be a tight game, I'm pretty sure of that, but we're confident and excited for it. But of course we want to be at a World Cup. We've got some top players who should be playing at that level. That's what we're aiming for.”