Fulutudilu credits Van Wyk's recovery for Glasgow City's SWPL title

South Africa internationals Ode Fulutudilu and Janine van Wyk joined forces to helps Glasgow City to yet another SWPL title. Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

South Africa international striker Ode Fulutudilu says the four-month break in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and thus the recovery of her national captain Janine van Wyk, were key reasons for Glasgow City FC's Scottish top flight victory.

Glasgow won the title this month, by just three points ahead of Celtic, to secure their 15th Scottish Women's Premier League trophy, though they had to deal with big losses along the way, like a 5-0 defeat to Rangers in December 2020.

Fulutudilu, who joined the side in December just after the Rangers loss, said that the break from later that month to April this year, due to rising cases in the UK, allowed Van Wyk, who had picked up a knee injury last October, to fully recover.

Defender Van Wyk, who is the most capped international footballer, of any gender, in South Africa, has been Banyana Banyana's captain 2015, and was the first South African to play in the U.S.'s NWSL, for the Houston Dash from 2016 to 2018.

"COVID delaying the league allowed us to get to know each other better, which just made things a little bit easier on the pitch," Fulutudilu, seeing a silver lining, told ESPN.

"[Van Wyk's return from injury] was massive. I think the 5-0 [loss] against Rangers showed what the team lacked in defence.

"The delay of the league really helped her to get back slowly into things and not rush into it. That gave her a chance to get her confidence slowly. Coming back from an injury, you always have doubts whenever the ball comes close to you.

"By the time the season kicked off [again], she was back to her best. She started [almost] every single game; she was confident, she was relentless at the back.

"Having a backline that has such a good foundation and is so strong always gives attackers confidence going forward, because we know that we don't need to score five or six goals to win big games -- we only need to score one or two goals and we have faith that our defence will keep it closed."

Fulutudilu won the league-and-cup double with Finland's Åland United prior to joining Glasgow. She took a minor gamble, which paid off handsomely, by moving to a new country after deciding there was nothing left to achieve if she stayed put.

Even if the 31-year-old's recent run of success has defied odds, the obstacles she faced upon moving to Scotland were incomparable to the mountains of challenges she overcame in her childhood.

Born in Kinshasa in what is now the DRC, civil war forced her to flee first her home country and then Angola, eventually arriving in South Africa at age 4, which she called home until she left for Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee.

Asked how the young girl who arrived in South Africa would react if she was informed that she would go on to become a double European league champion, Fulutudilu replied: "She would find it hard to believe, because she had not heard of any sport at that age. When I was four years old, I didn't even know sports existed.

"I only figured out soccer at the age of eight, when I actually watched it for the first time. Before then, it was non-existent to me, so she would find it hard to believe and hard to comprehend that such a thing would be possible."

Fulutudilu has her sights set on surmounting the odds once again. Glasgow City have held their own in the UEFA Women's Champions League in recent seasons, but they are always underdogs against Europe's major clubs -- a challenge which Fulutudilu is relishing.

Furthermore, she hopes to help South Africa win their first ever African Women's Cup of Nations next year in Morocco -- a milestone which they have narrowly missed out on several times.

"I still have a few goals, especially with the national team, that I would love to achieve. The Africa Cup of Nations is next year. That would be an incredible one -- to help the country achieve something that they have never done before," she said.

"At club level, I have not played in the Champions League. Next season will be my first time, so that's another thing that I can look [forward to] doing. There are still a few things that I want to achieve."