'I want to become a footballer, I had to make the sacrifice' - Meet the teenager who left Dubai to pursue his dream in England
Ryan Muldoon moved to the UK aged 13 in an attempt to catch the eye of English clubs. Now on the books of League Two Accrington Stanley, the 17-year-old defender speaks of his grounding in the UAE, upping sticks to the UK and his determination to succeed
Ryan Muldoon will never forget what mum Linda asked him.
“She said ‘Is it worth it? Do you really want it?’” he recalls.
Some four years on from that conversation, when the 17-year-old Accrington Stanley defender was a Year 8 pupil at Dubai English Speaking College, the answers to both questions remain the same – an unequivocal yes.
“I want to become a footballer so I had to make the sacrifice,” says Muldoon. “It’s what I want to do and this is what I have to do to become one.”
The life of a footballer is one Scottish-born Muldoon, who moved to Dubai with his family as a toddler, desired so much he was prepared to move continents by himself at 13 to try and achieve that goal.
“At first my mum didn’t want me to move but my dad convinced her it was the best thing to develop as a footballer and she let me go,” adds the right-back. “She supports me all the way. All my family do.”
After leaving Dubai, Muldoon initially attended boarding school in England. He trained with Championship club Blackburn Rovers and had a trial at Premier League side Burnley, who recommended him to Accrington Stanley in England's third tier.
In the summer he was rewarded for his performances in Stanley’s academy with a full-time youth contract and is now in the first year of a two-year deal.
Muldoon describes Dubai - where he lived on the Palm Jumeirah with Linda, dad Jim and sister Hannah, 15, - and Accrington, a working-class former manufacturing town in the north of England that voted for Brexit by some 66 per cent as “two totally different worlds”.
“There’s a big difference but I had to make the change,” he says. “There’s a level you get to [in Dubai] where you have to move if you want to make it [as a professional]. I felt I had reached that level and my coaches were telling me as well.”
The Scot played with Go-Pro in Dubai, where Kirk Hilton, a former Manchester United youth player who was at Old Trafford under Alex Ferguson and who also played for Royal Antwerp, is director of the academy.
Hilton remembers Muldoon as “a tenacious full-back who loved a challenge” but admits “the technical aspects” of his game required development in the more competitive environment of British football.
Ask Hilton what is required to move from being a youth player to become a professional and he replies “a lot of sacrifice and determination” – something he believes stands Muldoon in good stead.
“I think so,” says Hilton. “For him to get that far already is huge credit to him. He is so determined to do well.”
Muldoon credits Dubai – where he was also coached by former England midfielder Trevor Sinclair and ex-Scotland defender Derek Whyte - as having “set things up” for him.
“It was a good place to start,” he said. “I do miss it.”
He is honest enough to admit that despite his dedication and determination, moving to England at 13 was “scary” – more so when things didn’t initially go his way.
“Getting rejected by some clubs – that’s a knockback,” he said.
“But I’ve found a club now and it’s a good club. I’m just trying to push through – the under-23s, then the first team. I’ve played for the 23s already this season, even having to adapt out of position at centre-half. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the challenge.”
His dad, Jim, moved back to Scotland earlier this year, accepting a role as a company director, and travels down to watch him play for Accrington Stanley at weekends.
Jim describes the decision to leave wife Linda, who runs The Urban Nest Real Estate Broker in Dubai, and daughter Hannah in the UAE as “the hardest thing” he has ever had to do.
Jim and Ryan’s decision to move from their loved ones was impacted even further recently when Hannah was taken seriously ill while on a school trip in London and was hospitalised. She was in a coma for weeks but “has turned a corner”, her dad said.
Ryan took time off to be with his sister at her bedside and praises Accrington Stanley as being “supportive in every single way” during a traumatic time for the family.
“They’ve given me the time off that I’ve needed,” Muldoon told The National. “They’ve offered me counselling. My teammates have been good too.”
Having recently returned to Accrington in the past couple of weeks, Jim says football has “100 per cent been a release for Ryan during this period”.
“It is a comfort zone for him,” he adds.
“I think Ryan will emerge from this a better player and with more focus. He’s already saying ‘dad, I really want a pro contract’.”
It’s a view shared by his son, who agrees he now has even more determination to accomplish his professional football goal.
“I want to do it for the family, not just for me,” Muldoon says.
Updated: January 3, 2020 12:55 PM