After accusing former Three Lioness’ Manager Mark Sampson of bullying, harassment and racism culminating in his sack, Nigerian-born England international, Eniola Aluko, was shut out of the England female national team. However, with the appointment of Phil Neville as the new man at the helm, there appears a ray of hope for Aluko to be part of the team again, Kunle Adewale writes
T hough Nigeria-born England international, Eniola Aluko, was not included in the Three Lioness new coach Phil Neville’s 23-women team released recently for this year’s SheBelieves Cup, the former Manchester united ace emphasised that the door was not closed to other players as he was using the invitational tournament to discover new players.
“I have been really impressed by what I have seen in the past few weeks. Some exciting young players have caught my eye, and not just those that have been picked for this squad. They will get an opportunity in the cominwg months to challenge the established players who, of course, deserve big respect for what they have done to take this team to third in the world. I also hope this squad shows that the door is not closed to anyone and that those in form will always have a strong chance of being picked,” said Neville, who took charge of England Lionesses last month.
Neville has said Chelsea striker Eni Aluko, who has not played for the England women’s national team since she accused former manager Mark Samson of racial abuse, could earn a recall to the side.
Neville told The Telegraph he was beginning his time in charge with “a clean slate” and would not rule out any player.
The coach said he had spoken to Aluko, who is not currently featuring regularly for her club.
“I met her at a game. In terms of being selected for the squad, she’s not played for Chelsea regularly. If she starts scoring goals and is playing well, then she is no different to anyone else. Ultimately for me, if she is playing well and she’s scoring goals, she will be considered. It is as simple as that,” he said.
Neville however named Aluko’s Ghanian-born Chelsea teammate, Anita Asante, for the SheBelieves Cup after being shut out of the England Women squad since 2015.The Ghanaian born defender line up with fellow Chelsea defender Hannah Blundell and Everton’s Gabby George who could win their first caps in next month’s SheBelieves Cup in the USA.
Neville said: “She wants to be playing, and I spoke to other players in the team and she is a very popular figure. I told her, ‘Anita, I’m picking you on your ability to play football… your performances have warranted this call-up’. ”It’s a clean slate and everyone is delighted.”
Aluko was at the centre enquiry which involved the Football Association and the former national coach of bullying and claims of racism leading to eventual sacking of the coach after which the FA offered Aluko a formal apology after evidence proved that former Lionesses coach Mark Sampson made remarks that were “discriminatory on the grounds of race”, Aluko having registered a complaint about comments allegedly made to team-mates.
Sampson was sacked during the probe into his behaviour as England coach over “inappropriate and unacceptable” relationships with players in a previous role.
However, former goalkeeper David James criticised Aluko for making allegations of racism and bullying against Sampson after he was sacked as England Women’s manager by the Football Association.
Sampson was dismissed following a tip-off regarding allegations made against him during his previous role with Bristol Academy, where he worked as first team coach and was also responsible for the 16 to 19 year-olds programme. The FA confirmed that Sampson was sacked for an “unprofessional” relationship with his players, although the governing body was informed of the allegations in 2014, with FA chief executive officer Martin Glenn, only viewing the details of the case last week before making the decision with Chairman Greg Clarke and the FA board to dismiss Sampson.
The scandal has opened up
both Sampson and the FA to intense criticism, particularly as Sampson was allowed to continue in the role following allegations of racism and bullying made by Aluko last year. The FA investigated the matter and paid the 102-cap international £80,000 as “hush money”, with the governing body insisting that Sampson’s departure was in no relation to those allegations.
Sampson has struggled to rebuild his reputation following the shameful exit, but former England goalkeeper James leapt to his defence on Wednesday night and suggested that Aluko fabricated the allegations because she wasn’t good enough to be in his squad.
“Mark Sampson sacked as @England women’s manager?! Seems some wasted talent can’t deal with the fact they aren’t good enough! #enialuko,” James wrote on Twitter.
FA CEO Glenn made the decision after reading a 2015 safeguarding report into Sampson concerning his relationships with his players while at Bristol. The FA safeguarding panel decided in March that year that Sampson could continue to work in football, but when Glenn reviewed the report in detail he decided, along with the FA board, that Sampson had “overstepped the professional boundaries between player and coach”.
It, however, remains to be seen if the 102-cap Aluko, who has only played 90 minutes once for Chelsea in the WSL this season, with four goals in the kitty in seven appearances would meet Neville’s condition for her return to the Three Lioness.
Aluko has previously been described as “the Wayne Rooney of women’s football”, but while the comparison may be fair on the sporting front, it is some way off the mark in other respects.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1987, she moved to Britain in her infancy and grew up in Birmingham, where she started playing football in local parks during childhood so she could continue hanging out with the boys she was friendly with.
“It was an easy way to be accepted in the group,” she has said. They called her “Eddie” rather than “Eni”, so she could fit in. Her Nigerian relatives may have frowned on it, encouraging her to play tennis instead because football was not ladylike, but her mother’s good sense prevailed and she paid them no heed.
“I just wanted to be one of the boys and then, I realised I was better than most of them,” Aluko said.
Aged 11, she was approached to play for Leafield Athletic Ladies, a local side that offered her the ability to hone her skills, but not a career. For that, she turned to law. Having always had a strong sense of justice and a love of politics, law films – and the Harper Lee novel that gave her hero – it seemed like a natural choice. And so it was that in 2008 she graduated from Brunel University London with a first class honours degree in the subject.
But she had not abandoned the beautiful game, choosing instead to juggle her twin passions, just as her sporting hero, Eric Cantona – the thinking man’s footballer – remained a poet as he played.
Having played for England in her teens, she made her senior England debut aged only 17 and found herself competing at Euro 2005 while taking her A-levels. By 2007, she was signed to Chelsea, following stints at Birmingham City and Charlton Athletic. She subsequently left the west London club to play in the United States, but returned to it in 2012.
Meanwhile, during her time with “two very understanding law firms”, she worked on commercial deals for David Beckham and divorce cases. She’s helped recording artistes such as One Direction and others from The X Factor negotiate with their record labels, and worked with Olympic athletes like Victoria Pendleton.
Having become a sports and entertainment lawyer in 2014, her plan is to work in sports law when her career on the pitch comes to an end.
With such a variety of strings to her bow, it’s only fitting she should also have become the first female pundit in men’s football. In 2014, she made history by becoming the first female pundit to feature on Match of the Day, continuing her sideline in punditry during the television coverage of Euro 2016.
“Sport,” she once said, “gives you… real-life lessons that make you bulletproof.” As the FA grapples with the fall-out of her accusations, Aluko will be well-placed to ride out of the storm.