Apart from the World Cup, the Uefa Champions League is the most coveted competition to play in, players would do anything, including putting their lives on hold for the chance of playing in Europe’s top club competition. Leandra Smeda’s recent move to Lithuanian side Gintra Universitetas was motivated by the prospect of facing the world’s best women footballers. The Banyana Banyana midfielder even made a bold decision to put her career as a food technologist on ice just for a chance to experience the pinnacle of European football.
Universitetas are the defending A Lyga champions, having won it a record 14 times. The university team has played in the Champions League since 2009 with the round of 32 being their best outcome. Playing in the Champions League would mean the World Cup is the only tournament she would be missing on her CV.
“I wanted to come and have a taste of European football. The team will be playing in the Champions League qualifiers next month. I wanted to test myself and compare how it is different to football in South Africa,” she says.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that the Lithuanians have taken an interest in the striker who was part of Banyana’s 2012 and 2016 Olympic squads. Before joining Universitetas, Smeda was playing her Sasol League football at the University of Western Cape. UWC has seen many players, such as Thembi Kgatlana, Nomvula Kgoale, Jermaine Seoposenwe and Kelso Peskin, moving overseas.
Smeda says UWC is successful in importing players because of the relationships it has with other varsities around the world. The 29-year-old says she will continue her relationship with the university when she returns to complete her Masters in Food Science and Technology.
“If I won’t be playing professional football next year, I will do my Masters while studying and I will look for a job in the food technology industry again,” she adds.