Eniola Aluko Profile
|Born||Feb 21, 1987|
Eniola Aluko is one of the pioneers of English women's soccer. She has played at the top level in England, Italy and USA, as well as collecting over a hundred caps for the national team.
Eniola 'Eni' Aluko is a former professional footballer who currently serves as the director of football for Aston Villa Women.
Aluko has played for Birmingham City, Charlton Athletic, Chelsea, Saint Louis Athletica, Sky Blue FC, Atlanta Beat and Juventus.
Born in Nigeria, Aluko chose to play for England and won 102 caps for the national team. She is as revered for standing up to what she felt was racist behaviour from then-coach Mark Sampson as she is for her astounding achievements with her national team.
Birmingham City debut
Aluko started her career at Leafield Athletic Ladies and then made her Birmingham City debut at the age of 14. She scored in that match against Leeds United. Aluko was named Young Player of the Year at The FA Women's Football Awards in 2003.
Aluko's second stint at Birmingham was in 2012 and she was part of the side which won the FA Women's Cup, beating Chelsea in the final.
Cup success at Charlton Athletic
Aluko joined Charlton Athletic in January 2004 and helped them beat Fulham 1-0 to win the FA Women's Premier League Cup.
The 2003/04 season saw Charlton lose the FA Cup final to Arsenal and narrowly miss out on the top flight title at the hands of the same opponents, but in 2005, Aluko scored the winning goal in the FA Women's Cup final, a 1-0 win over Everton.
In 2006, she scored both goals in the 2-1 FA Women's Premier League Cup final win over Arsenal.
Aluko also won the London FA Women's Cup with Charlton in 2005 and 2006. She left for Chelsea after Charlton Athletic ceased to support the women's team.
Silverware with Chelsea
Aluko's initial spell at Chelsea was from 2007 to 2009 and she already made her mark as a clinical goalscorer. After returning from the USA, she had another stint at Birmingham City and then re-joined Chelsea in December 2012.
Aluko was important for Chelsea from the get-go after returning. She put in a Player-of-the-Match performance as they beat Notts County 1-0 in 2015 to win the first FA Women's Cup final played at Wembley Stadium. It was Chelsea Women's first major trophy.
Chelsea were FA WSL Champions in 2015 and 2017/18, as well as in the 2017 FA WSL Spring Series, with Aluko a regular player for them, though her involvement decreased in 2017/18 and she was eventually allowed to leave the club on a free transfer to Juventus.
Aluko and WPS
Aluko moved to the USA after her playing rights were obtained by St. Louis Athletica in October 2008. In the inaugural WPS season, she was her team's top scorer with six goals and also picked up four assists. The team finished second in the standings, but Aluko missed the play-offs and All-Star Match due to international commitments.
Saint Louis Athletica folded during the 2010 season and Aluko joined Atlanta Beat. She was then traded to Sky Blue FC in December 2010. In 2012, she left for Birmingham City as the WPS structure crumbled.
During 18 months at Juventus, Aluko won Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italiana. However, her time in Turin was also marred by experiences of racism.
"I've had many ups and downs in Italy and learned a huge amount about myself," wrote the former England striker in The Guardian.
"When you play abroad it is often the bad days that really shape and strengthen you.
"Sometimes Turin feels a couple of decades behind in terms of its general openness to different kinds of people.
"I have grown tired of walking into stores and feeling as if the owner expects me to rob the place.
"There is only so many times you can arrive at Turin airport and have the sniffer dogs treat you like you are Pablo Escobar.
"I have not experienced any racism from Juventus fans or within the women's League, but there is an issue in Italy and in Italian football and it is the response to it that really worries me.
"From owners and fans in the men's game, who seem to see it as a part of fan culture."
On 15 January 2020, Aluko announced her retirement from playing professional football after her playing stint at Juventus came to an end.
Aston Villa director
Aluko was appointed Sporting Director of Aston Villa Women a week after hanging up her boots. The team currently competes in the FA Women's Super League.
Aluko received her first England call-up at 14 years of age and decided to stay loyal to the coaches who had given her the opportunity to play football internationally.
"The main thing for me is for people to understand that choosing to play for England doesn't mean that I don't support Nigeria. I'm as much Nigerian as I'm British. Of course Nigeria means a lot to me, it's part of me, but I've been brought up by English coaches," she told BBC Sport.
Aluko starred for England at youth level and played at Euro 2005 and the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup.
She was a crucial part of the England side which reached the final of Euro 2009, scoring in the group stage match against Russia and bagging a brace in the quarter-final clash with Finland.
Aluko endured a difficult 2011 World Cup, but she was an instrumental part of England's 2015 World Cup qualifying campaign and featured at the tournament. After May 2016, she was not called up to the national team again following her allegations of racism against coach Mark Sampson. The FA later publicly apologised to Aluko for their handling of the case.
Aluko is a trained lawyer. Her brother, Sone, also carved out a successful career in professional football. Her father is a former Nigerian MP, while chemical engineering professor Bolaji Aluko is her uncle.
Aluko publicly declared her support for the Conservative Party in 2019. She initially criticised the government's furlough scheme helped to soften the blow of COVID-19, but subsequently apologised for offence caused.
Although she has at times been open in her criticism of the FA and other sporting organisations for a lack of support for women's football, Aluko has also admitted that she never expected to be paid on par with Wayne Rooney.
"Look, the reality is that people will pay more for a match when Wayne Rooney is playing than when I am playing. I will never expect to be paid the same as Wayne Rooney, because I am not Wayne Rooney. And there's no getting around that," she said, as quoted by The Guardian.
"We're not women who say we should be given this amount because we are women - we have to get to that point where people are willing to pay those high ticket prices, and then we can command more money. And we do that by winning world tournaments."