England Women: What should be done about Eniola Aluko?
©James Boyes, licensed under Attribution 2.0 UK.
Last season, Juventus, followed 12 months on by Manchester United, yielded to popular demand by creating its own women's team. The enterprise cost United around £5 million to fully launch. Their ladies side began life in the Women's Super League second tier. Italian giants Juve, meanwhile, spent a lot less. But they were successful in creating an outfit which went on to bully the first division, winning the league on debut.
This campaign, the Women's Serie A is bubbling with life and healthy competition. Like Juventus did with Cuneo in 2017-18, AC Milan bought out Brescia. The Rossoneri have since assumed the role of Juve's biggest threat to consecutive titles. On their part, the Old Lady strengthened an already formidable team by bringing in some fresh faces. Among those is England international Eniola Aluko.
The rationale behind Aluko's signing wasn’t so clear at the beginning. She wasn’t really a necessary addition. Striker Barbara Bonansea plundered 19 goals for Juventus last campaign, only narrowly missing out on the Golden Boot. Recruiting a 31-year-old seemed more like adding to squad depth. Especially with Juve competing in the Champions League.
However, looking at things from Aluko's perspective, she's desperate to break new ground. Not only versatile in attacking roles, she's also a seasoned campaigner who has unflinchingly taken on challenges in the United States. Between 2009-11, the Nigerian-born forward honed her craft with St. Louis Athletica, Atlanta Beat and Sky Blue FC. She returned to England in 2012, joining Birmingham for a season-long spell.
In the last six years of her career at Chelsea, Aluko won three Super Leagues and two FA Cups. In 2016, she plundered nine goals to claim the WSL Golden Shoe. With fewer minutes coming her way this year, it was time to take on a fresh challenge. Moving to Juventus is reaping the rewards.
While Aluko has proven a huge success at club level, the same is true of her performance on the international stage. When a player reaches 100 caps, they deserve immense respect and recognition. The Juve frontwoman has represented England 102 times. She’s featured in five major tournaments, including three World Cups. It’s a selfless career to her country, spanning over 12 years.
Controversy erupted in 2016 when Aluko accused then-England manager Mark Sampson of racism and bullying. The English FA apologized to the striker, paying £80,000 in compensation. Sampson was later sacked for an unrelated incident.
Apparently, before Sampson was fired, Lionesses squad members stood in solidarity with him. That left Aluko incensed. She accused her teammates of selfishness and lacking respect. The dust settled around summer, 2017. However, Aluko hasn't received an England call-up since the incident took place.
Phil Neville’s dilemma
In January, Phil Neville was appointed to tinker the Lionesses. The 41-year-old's stint as manager has so far been a success. He's still having to face the Aluko situation, though. Asked about it, he opined:
First and foremost is she (Aluko) good enough to play for England? Is she scoring goals and playing well? Have we got competition for places? Ultimately, for me, if she’s playing well, she’s scoring goals, she will be considered.
It's true, there's competition to earn England selection. But since joining Juventus Aluko's checked all of Neville's boxes. Both playing and scoring regularly, she's struck five times in four games.
It leaves Neville with a decision. Aluko is not only vastly experienced, but she's also athletic and performing well in an elite league. What's stopping her inclusion now? This is a situation which deserves close monitoring.