(Published - 29 January 2020}
UWC alumna and 2018 African Woman Footballer of the Year, Thembi Kgatlana, has been signed by Europeans giants Benfica in Portugal.
Kgatlana has joined a growing number of South African women footballers who have moved to top clubs in Europe in recent times - most notable is fellow UWC alumna Leandra Smeda who joined Swedish club Vittsjö GIK. With Benfica leading the top-level women's football league in Portugal, the team is in good stead to participate in the UEFA Women's Champions League.
“These are all the moments we dream about when we grow up. Pleased to announce that I will be joining SL Benfica Feminino,” Kgatlana told her twitter followers after putting pen to paper at Benfica. Although Kgatlana has yet to make a public statement about the details of her deal, the Banyana Banyana star was quoted in the Benfica website as being over the moon about the move.
“I am very excited to sign for Benfica. I thank the team, the President, and everyone for giving me the opportunity to come to Portugal and Benfica. Benfica is a great club in Portugal and in the world. I have already had the opportunity to see history and records, and it is a great honour for me to be part of such a great club.”
Benfica's vice-president, Fernando Tavares, spoke highly of Kgatalana and said the team has “very high expectations” of her. "We have very high expectations for Thembi. She was considered the best African player of the year in 2019. She is a player with very strong characteristics. She is very fast, she can play one or two positions on the field, and she can play number 9 and be extreme. With this acquisition we will endow Benfica's attack with several solutions to add to the ones we already have, considering what are the objectives of the time.”
The Johannesburg-born Kgatlana helped UWC win a number of trophies before joining Houston Dash in the United States and Beijing BG Phoenix in China. She has been a key member of the senior women's national team, and scored the only goal for South Africa at the FIFA Women's World Cup in France last year.
UWC women’s football coach, Thinasonke Mbuli, who is also the assistant coach of Banyana Banyana, congratulated Kgatlana and said it was a good move for her to join Benfica, especially as they are currently leading the top women’s league in Portugal and stand a chance to play in the Champions League against the top European clubs. “As young as she is (at 23), Thembi has grown a lot. Hopefully what she will learn in Portugal she can take back and contribute to the national team.”