Saudi Arabia raids WSL for first time as Women’s World Cup star moves to Middle East and says ‘it’s more than football’

SAUDI club Al-Ittihad have completed their first raid on the Women’s Super League to sign former Leicester City star Asleigh Plumptre on a free transfer.

Men’s Saudi Pro League teams have splashed out a fortune over recent months to bring in a host of top names.

GettyEx-Leicester City star Ashleigh Plumptre has joined the Saudi Women’s Premier League[/caption]

GettyThe Nigerian international defender has become one of the most high profile signings[/caption]

And Al-Ittihad have been one of those making the headlines, snapping up the likes of Karim Benzema from Real Madrid and N’Golo Kante from Chelsea.

The country’s Public Investment Fund took over four clubs this year with Al-Ittihad one of those being backed massively.

The huge transfer outlays has led to many accusing the Middle East nation of attempting to “sportswash” its reputation.

There have been numerous concerns over human rights in Saudi, which include a lack of women’s and LGBTQ+ ones.

And the country still has in place the potential death penalty for same-sex sexual activity.

However, that has not stopped free agent Plumptre from leaving England from heading out there.

The Nigerian international, who represented England at youth level, played in all four games for her country at the Women’s World Cup.

She has now become one of the most high-profile signings for the Saudi Women’s Premier League and cannot wait to get started.

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The 25-year-old said: “[I am] excited to start this journey alongside some incredible human beings.”

Plumptre, who had been at the Foxes for three years until her contract expired this summer, added on social media: “Grateful to have signed for Al-Ittihad.

“My journey of stepping into more of myself continues… It’s more than football.”

Plumptre started all but two matches in Leicester’s WSL campaign last term, helping them to a tenth placed finish.

She will be managed by former USA star Kelly Lindsey at Al-Ittihad, who has recently left her role at Lewes FC as head of performance.

The Saudi Women’s Premier League launched in 2020 after women were finally deemed legal to go into stadiums two years earlier.

Campaigners are still fighting for more to be done for equal rights but Peter Hutton, who is part of the Saudi Pro League board, said last month that “changes in the role of women in the Saudi community are remarkable and moving very fast.”

He added: “I look at the evidence I see. You’ve now got 50,000 school girls playing football.

You’ve got 1,000 women coaches.

“In 2018 there were 750 registered coaches. Now there are over 5,500.

“So you see that as evidence of change, and women’s football development as part of societal change. That for me is the real attraction of this project.”

Saudi Arabia’s women’s team also entered the Fifa world rankings for the first time earlier this year.

And now the country has launched a bid to stage the 2026 Women’s Asia Cup there.

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