By Oluwashina Okeleji
Experienced Nigeria midfielder Rita Chikwelu has become the latest in an ever-increasing number of African players to join the Spanish Women’s League.
The 31-year-old has joined Madrid CFF on a six-month deal after a decade in Sweden, where she scored 60 goals, with Umea IK and Kristianstad.
She joins compatriot Chidinma Okeke at the Spanish Primera Iberdrola side.
“This is a different and competitive league, as a footballer you want to test yourself around the best players,” she told BBC Sport.
“The Spanish league is an interesting place for African players and I believe this will continue to help develop our players’ game and their profile.”
Chikwelu helped Nigeria to success at the 2016 and 2018 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations tournaments.
She also played a key role at last year’s Women’s World Cup as the West Africans reached the knockout stage for the first time since 1999.
Another compatriot, the four-time African footballer of the year winner, Asisat Oshoala is the biggest African name in the 16-team league with FC Barcelona.
Christopher Atkins of RWMG Sports Management believes African players are now attracted to new options as more women’s leagues become professional.
The more traditional choices were the USA and Scandinavia, who were among the first to offer professional deals for women, with China, France and England following suit.
“The Spanish league is fast becoming one of, if not the most attractive destination for African players,” Atkins, much of whose work is in the Asian market, told BBC Sport.
“The successes of Asisat Oshoala and (Zambian) Barbra Banda in particular have given inspiration to others and La Liga are doing a great job of boosting the profile of the league.”
Many African players have enjoyed huge financial incentives in China and savoured the competitive nature with its top clubs always on the hunt for new players.
But the fast-growing Spanish league also presents African players with a good platform to parade their skills.
“The clubs are excellent when it comes to looking after the players and making them feel at home,” Atkins added.
African players in the Spanish Women’s league:
- Barcelona – Asisat Oshoala (Nigeria)
- CD Tacon – Osinachi Ohale (Nigeria)
- EdF Logrono – Ida Guehai (Ivory Coast), Barbra Banda (Zambia), Grace Asantewaa (Ghana) Jade Boho (Equatorial Guinea)
- Madrid CFF – Rita Chikwelu and Chidinma Okeke (Both Nigeria)
- Rayo Vallecano Femenino – Priscilla Okyere (Ghana)
- Real Betis Feminas – Michaela Abam (Cameroon)
- Sevilla FC – Toni Payne (Nigeria)
- Sporting de Huelva – Peace Efih (Nigeria) Princella Adubea (Ghana)
- UD Granadilla Tenerife – Ange N’Guessan (Ivory Coast) Raissa Feudijoat (Cameroon)
- Valencia – Zenatha Goeieman (Namibia)