(Published - 4 July 2018)
University of the Western Cape (UWC) star midfielder Leandra Smeda has joined the Gintra Universitetas in Lithuania, becoming only the fifth South African women’s footballer to make the breakthrough to the professional ranks.
The 28-year-old has penned a four-month agreement with the Lithuanian champions starting this month - becoming the second UWC women’s footballer to turn professional in as many months, after striker Thembi Kgatlana joined Houston Dash in the United States early this year. Other South African footballers who are playing at professional level are Janine van Wyk and Linda Motlhalo, who are also at Houston Dash, and Ode Fulutudilu, who plies her trade at Oulu Nice Soccer in Finland.
Smeda, who hails from Veldfrift in the West Coast, joined UWC Ladies Football Club in 2014, and has helped the club achieve resounding success over the years.
A versatile footballer who can play with both feet, she has been a regular in the senior national women’s team for a number of years, but had given up hopes of turning professional.
“To be honest, I did not expect to be moving abroad. At 28, I had given up on signing for an overseas team, so I am very grateful for this chance - and looking forward to this great challenge, testing myself against other quality players from around the world,” she said.
The club Smeda is joining belongs to Siauliai University. The reigning champions of the highest Lithuanian league, the A Lyga, they are also representing Lithuania in the UEFA Women's Champions League.
“I know it will not be easy for me,” Smeda said. “As a foreigner, I now have to adapt to a new team, new teammates, new coaching methods, a new environment, a new style of play and many other things. But I am confident it will work out in the end. I just need to do what I do best - focus on my game and enjoy myself.”
Her move abroad is part of UWC’s objective of nurturing athletes so they can excel locally, nationally and globally.
“If I do well, this can open up so many doors for the other players from UWC and within South Africa. Having more players abroad can only be good for South African women’s football.”
Smeda, will play her last games for UWC at the University Sport South Africa club championships in Port Elizabeth this week.