Nigeria defender Ashleigh Plumptre has become one the most high profile women’s players to join a Saudia Arabian side after signing for Al-Ittihad.
The 25-year-old joins the Saudi Women’s Premier League team following three years with WSL side Leicester City. With many openly gay players in women’s football and extremely restrictive rights for women and homosexuality being illegal in Saudi Arabia, the move and the country’s growing interest in women’s football is controversial.
Plumptre has been recruited by the former technical director of Championship side Lewes, Kelly Lindsey, who is now head manager of the Saudi Arabian side. Lindsey is a former US international who has previously been head coach of the Afghanistan women’s national team and Morocco women’s national team.
Her assistant, Myles Smith, spent six years working in West Ham Women’s set up and nine months as a scout for Manchester United Women and the team’s goalkeeping coach, Dan Smith, joined from newly promoted Bristol City.
Plumptre posted on X (formerly Twitter) that she was “grateful to have signed for Al-Ittihad.” She added: “I am excited to start this journey alongside some incredible human beings. My journey of stepping into more of myself continues … It’s more than football.”
Plumptre impressed for Nigeria at the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, with the African side narrowly missing out on a place in the quarter-finals, losing to England on penalties after the game was goalless after 120 minutes.
The defender represented England at Under-15, Under-17, Under-19 and Under-23 levels but chose to represent Nigeria at senior level, whom she qualifies to play for through her paternal grandfather.
Plumptre follows Venezuela’s Oriana Altuve, fellow Nigerian Rita Chikwelu and Sweden’s Nor Mustafa into the league for its second season.
Al-Ittihad finished fifth in the eight-team league’s first season, with five wins and six draws from 14 games. The new season kicks off on 13 October. The 30-team second tier, which is made up of six regional groups, will see three teams promoted to the top flight following a knockout competition of the winners of each region and one relegated from it.
The winners of the top flight will collect SR2million (£427,457).