Ever since her comments in early April after finding out she was not selected for Mark Sampson’s European Championship squad this summer, Eniola Aluko has endured a tough few months in the public eye.
The 30-year-old Chelsea striker, who was the WSL’s top goalscorer in 2016, last played for England in April last year and her international progress has stalled since, despite no drop in form for club side Chelsea. Emma Hayes’ side challenged both domestically and in European competition – Aluko played her part despite fierce competition for places in the starting eleven.
She had to watch on from the sidelines as her teammates crashed out in the semi-finals against host nation Netherlands. During last month’s tournament, she formed part of Channel 4’s coverage team.
Instead of being part of the squad alongside forwards such as Arsenal’s Jodie Taylor and club team-mate Fran Kirby, she was shifted to the side. She confirmed the FA’s financial settlement offer of £80,000 was accepted, but claims that it was to avoid disruption to England’s Euro campaign were clarified recently by the striker.
Currently in Austria for pre-season training with Chelsea ahead of the new FA WSL campaign, it serves as some welcome respite for Aluko. However, that doesn’t mean that work should not be done to ultimately get to the bottom of this matter.
The FA’s payment had already been branded hush money before her above statement. This is important as it suggests they felt guilty and responsible for lack of care with her situation.
It’s unfortunate but typical that given the Lionesses’ success in recent years, an issue like this involving one of their top players has risen.
Given the contentious nature of this incident, it makes things increasingly harder to solve. Mark Sampson has importantly helped the side transition from Hope Powell’s lengthy tenure in charge. With that in mind, most neutrals wouldn’t expect such a serious issue regarding a long-serving player, not least with racism and discrimination coming into play.
After all, it’s 2017. Are we not supposed to be past all of this?
Discrimination against players based on their race and background isn’t just incredibly naive and narrow-minded. It’s damaging to the team ethic, not to mention the player(s) involved. Despite the FA’s independent investigation found Sampson innocent of Aluko’s initial claims, they have questions to answer.
Having participated in the FA’s culture review, where she originally raised her grievances and was assured it would be a confidential process, she was dropped from the squad within two weeks.
The FA have suggested that it’s purely an innocent coincidence, as Sampson described Aluko as “withdrawn” during team meetings and was worried about her attitude behind-the-scenes. But why would she be dropped for that, especially without warning or any clarity either?
Instead of dropping her from the squad, why were things not handled differently to assess the problems at hand?
The FA offered Aluko a financial settlement, with a confidentiality agreement included. As previously stated, the official explanation was to avoid disruption before the Euros – though Aluko herself has said that’s not the full story.
She was able to discuss the case if revealed publicly, which it since has been. Crucially though, she was not allowed to say anything that could potentially bring the FA into disrepute.
This is important to understand because although they haven’t issued a statement since Aluko revealed an Ebola remark, their initial statement last Thursday included the following from manager Mark Sampson:
“The barrister’s final report said there was no case to answer and noted that my approach to all players was the same regardless of their background. I also appreciated that the report highlighted areas where I could improve my general communication style, and that is something I have taken on board and looked to improve.”
If Aluko is telling the truth and Sampson’s comments – all of them – were said, then it’s clearly more than just a communication problem. But the FA’s lack of action to resolve the issue has just seen this story continue to drag along.
The last thing that women’s football needs right now is negative publicity. There has been a surge in the level of TV and radio coverage across the UK. Stadium attendances continue to rise, proving there is genuine interest in the sport. Problems like these just reiterate the fact there is plenty of work still to be done.