AFS meets Eniola Aluko
In this debut feature for Africa Football Shop, the team are proud to introduce one of our columnists, Eniola Aluko.
Eni plays as a striker for England and Chelsea. She was named ‘Young Player of the Year’ at the FA Awards in 2003 and represented Team GB at the 2012 London Olympics.
Over the coming months she will be supplying her opinions and talking through some of the game’s key issues, here, exclusively, on Africa Football Shop.
In this opening feature, we talk to her about her career to date and her hopes for the future.
AFS: You took your A levels while playing at Euro 2005, was there ever any pressure to drop either sport or studies for the other?
Eniola: No, fortunately I have a supportive family that recognised my love and talent for football, so always encouraged me to continue, but to study too so that I have a profession to fall back on.
In order to not have pressure to drop either one, it was more a case of dealing with balancing both, which I think I have managed well so far.
AFS: How much has your career been helped by being named Young Player of the Year in 2003?
Eniola: Being named Young Player of the Year was a moment I’ll never forget. It rewarded a great time in my career when I was at Charlton and gave me a good springboard and confidence to kick on with my club career and England.
AFS: How big a deal was it to play in the Olympics? How do you think you will look back on this experience in the future?
Eniola: The Olympic experience will always stay with me. It was unforgettable. Sharing an environment with top athletes every day and playing at Wembley in front of 70,000 fans, was incredible.
I feel really blessed to say I was a part of it.
AFS: What were the differences, both practical and emotional, between playing for England and GB?
Eniola: There was not really a big difference because it was the same coach and the majority of players were English. It was not a huge factor; it was more about wearing the GB shirt with as much pride as you would the English shirt, and performing to a high level because the nation was behind us.
Kate McKenna: Manchester City have recently launched Manchester City Women’s Football Club, how does this high-profile step help the women’s game? Particularly at grassroots level, are you anticipating a change?
Eniola: I think what MCWFC are doing is fantastic for the game as a whole. When you look at the bigger picture it is great to see that huge clubs are investing in their women’s teams which can only encourage professional standards throughout the league, attract great players and increase competition.
It is what the game needs, and what I think the women’s game deserves in order to keep growing. Professional structures will allow girls at grassroots to have a pathway to aspire to get into a professional first team—which again can only improve the game.
AFS: How will their investment change the complexion at the elite end of the women’s game in the UK?
Eniola: Investment will ensure that players can play professionally and earn a good living doing so.
For years, most players have had to balance work and playing, so greater investment allows for players to choose football as a career. International players are starting to recognise that England is a good place to play too, mainly because more money is coming into the women’s game.
In short, it’s great.
AFS: If you could have one wish for women’s football, what would it be?
Eniola: We have already seen a movement towards a professional league with majority of the WSL teams having a core group of players training professionally. So with a professional set up I’d like to see women’s teams becoming self-sustaining financially through commercial sponsorship and a growing fan base that attend games regularly.
Johnson Nwokolo Paul: Would you consider playing in the Nigerian Women’s football Championship?
Eniola: I think I will finish my career playing in England and hopefully that will be at a successful team that wins the league and other trophies every year. I am hoping that is Chelsea.
From Ifeanyi Andrew: What do you feel are Sone’s [Brother Sone Aluko] chances of recovering from his latest injury setback and making the World Cup squad?
Eniola: Sone has worked very hard to get back in action with Hull and I am sure if he performs how he had been doing when he was fit, he will be in contention for World Cup selection.
AFS: If Nigeria and England squared off in the World Cup final – where would your loyalties lie?
Eniola: I think I’d want a draw and close my eyes on penalties 😉
Orlando Uwaezuoke: What do you intend to do when your football career is over?
Eniola: I intend to practice sports law, both in the men’s and women’s game. I am also passionate about giving other people the opportunity to maximise their talent, so I’d be keen on mentoring young people and to help them tap into all the key things that lead to success.