Ashleigh Plumptre becomes first WSL star to sign with Saudi Arabia's eight-team league
The GIST: Nigerian international Ashleigh Plumptre signed with Saudi Arabia’s Women’s Premier League team Al-Ittihad on Wednesday, becoming the first WSL star to sign with the eight-team league as it enters its second season. Cue Mr. Krabs.
The details: After playing for hometown Leicester for three years, Plumptre was reportedly fielding interest from Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain before inking the deal with Al-Ittihad. Although contract details remain unknown, she had an estimated market value of $42.5K and considering the recent Saudi money spent on men's players, Plumptre could have landed a relatively lucrative deal herself.
The trend: While there's been a great deal of attention paid to the $972.9M shelled out by the mens’ Saudi Pro League (RSL), there has been notable international recruitment on the women's side, too. Plumptre joins Sweden’s Nor Mustafa on Al-Ittihad, which is coached by former USWNT player Kelly Lindsey. Plus, Venezuela’s Oriana Altuve and fellow Nigerian Rita Chikwelu will suit up for Al Shabab this season.
- It's worth noting that 87% of spending in the RSL was done by four clubs: Al Hilal, Al Ahli, Al Nassr, and Al-Ittihad. These clubs are owned by the Public Investment Fund, which has already poured billions into LIV Golf, Formula 1, and English soccer.
Zooming out: Plumptre's move is the latest in a fast-paced Saudi sports landscape as the nation looks to push past sportswashing controversies, including notable women’s soccer conundrums: Saudi women couldn't even attend soccer matches until five years ago, and the country currently persecutes members of the LGBTQ+ community.
- But despite the past (and present), Saudi Arabia is doing numbers when it comes to bringing more women and girls into the game. According to an RSL board member, there are now 50K girls playing football in the country and the number of women’s soccer coaches has grown exponentially. Putting the grass in grassroots.