Saudi club Al-Ittihad have completed their first foray into the Women’s Super League, signing former Leicester City star Asleigh Plumptre on a free transfer.
The Saudi Pro League men’s teams have spent a fortune in recent months to attract a host of top names.
And Al-Ittihad was one of those who made headlines by signing players like Karim Benzema from Real Madrid and N’Golo Kante from Chelsea.
The country’s public investment fund has taken over four clubs this year, including Al-Ittihad, which has received massive support.
The huge transfer spending has led many to accuse the Middle Eastern country of trying to “damage” its reputation.
There have been numerous concerns about human rights in Saudi Arabia, including the lack of human rights for women and LGBTQ+.
And the country still has the potential death penalty for same-sex sexual activity.
However, that hasn’t stopped free agent Plumptre from leaving England and heading there.
The Nigeria international, who represented England at youth level, played all four of her country’s games at the Women’s World Cup.
She is now one of the Saudi Women’s Premier League’s most high-profile signings and can’t wait to get started.
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The 25-year-old said: “[I am] I’m excited to begin this journey with some incredible people.”
Plumptre, who played for the Foxes for three years until her contract expired this summer, added on social media: “I am grateful to have signed for Al-Ittihad.
“My journey to find more of myself continues… It’s more than just football.”
Plumptre started all but two of Leicester’s games in the WSL season last year, helping them to a 10th-place finish.
It will be led by former US star Kelly Lindsey at Al-Ittihad, who recently left her role as head of performance at Lewes FC.
The Saudi Women’s Premier League was launched in 2020 after women were finally declared legal to enter stadiums two years earlier.
Activists are still fighting for more to be done for equality, but Peter Hutton, who sits on the board of the Saudi Pro League, said last month that “the changes in the role of women in the Saudi community are remarkable and are happening very quickly .”
He added: “I look at the evidence I see. 50,000 schoolgirls now play football.
They have 1,000 female coaches.
“In 2018 there were 750 registered trainers. There are now over 5,500.
“So they see this as evidence of change and the development of women’s football as part of a social change. For me, that’s the real appeal of this project.”
Saudi Arabia’s women’s team also entered the FIFA world rankings for the first time at the beginning of the year.
And now the country has launched a bid to host the 2026 Women’s Asia Cup there.