Nigeria defender Ashleigh Plumptre has joined Saudi club Al-Ittihad on a free transfer, having left Leicester City.
Plumptre, who played all four Nigeria matches at the Women’s World Cup, is one of the Saudi Women’s Premier League’s most high-profile signings.
A former age-group international with England, she switched allegiance to Nigeria in 2022.
“[I am] excited to start this journey alongside some incredible human beings,” the 25-year-old said.
Plumptre started all but two of Leicester’s Women’s Super League (WSL) games last season as the team finished 10th.
Kelly Lindsey, a former US international who this summer left the role of Lewes FC’s head of performance, will be Plumptre’s new manager at Al-Ittihad.
Men’s Saudi Pro League teams have spent eye-catching sums in the transfer window, with Al-Ittihad’s recent additions including Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante, and this has led to accusations the country is seeking to ‘sportswash’ its reputation.
There are concerns over human rights in Saudi Arabia, including a lack of women’s and LGBTQ+ rights as well as the country’s use of the death penalty with same-sex sexual activity illegal and potentially punishable by death.
Saudi Arabia’s first women’s football league was launched in 2020, two years after women were first allowed into stadiums in the kingdom, but campaigners say more still needs to be done.
Al-Ittihad were one of four Saudi clubs taken over by the country’s Public Investment Fund earlier this year.
Peter Hutton, who sits on the Saudi Pro League board, said in August that “changes in the role of women in Saudi community are remarkable and moving very fast.”
Hutton 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 entered the Fifa world rankings for the first time earlier this year and the country is bidding to host the 2026 Women’s Asia Cup.
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