Former Footballer Eniola Aluko – In this exclusive interview for Women Talking, Eniola Aluko reveals what the England football team can do to improve diversity and what she would advise amateur players. An inspiring female speaker, Eniola regularly attends events to empower women from sports, business and more, taking to stages across the globe. From her proudest sporting achievement to the biggest life hurdle faced by Eniola, do not miss this Q&A with one of football’s most exciting female players.
What is your advice for young people wanting to pursue a career in football?
“I would say, try and get into football as early as you can. Try playing for local teams or school teams as early as you can, because there are so many pathways into football.
“You’ve got teams from the age of six all the way up to professional level. But even if you can’t get in early, don’t give up on your dream! There are teams literally everywhere.
“I would encourage you to get into a team, enjoy football as much as you can, and enjoy football even when you become a professional. A lot of the time, when you go into professional games, it all gets very serious, and people lose the love of the sport.
“It’s really important that you keep that level of enjoyment when you get into the professional game!”
You recently said that the England team is not diverse enough; what more must be done to improve diversity in football?
“I think that in football, people are just really lazy about recruitment and people just want to recruit the people that look like them, sound like them, think like them.
“So, to improve diversity and inclusion in football, you need to be much more intentional about who you’re recruiting, where you’re recruiting and how you’re recruiting. You must avoid looking in the same place you’ve always looked or avoid looking in the same networks you’ve always looked at.
“I also think there’s a real issue around what people associate with ‘competency’. So, people have always associated competency with a certain look – it’s a white man, right? Whereas competency is much broader than that.
“When people come to an interview, people automatically go, ‘they’re not good enough’, because they’re not white, so they don’t get hired. We’ve now got to a point where there are diverse candidates that are part of the interview process, but they never get the job.
“People still don’t see competency and they go, ‘well, they’re not ready’. How are they ever going to be ready if you don’t give them the opportunity to fail, or to improve?”
What is your proudest sporting achievement?
My proudest sporting achievement… I’ve got a few, but if you must put me on the spot, I’d definitely say winning the FA Cup for Chelsea in 2015 at Wembley.
“It was the first time ever that the FA cup was at Wembley. There were thousands of fans there and I got the Player of the Match! It was probably the best day of my life.”
Can you describe a time when you faced hardship, and how did you overcome the challenge?
“Oh yeah, I have faced hardship in my career. I’ve faced hardship a lot, really, with my club team, with the national team.
“I obviously had a very public case and honestly, I think I got through it by just having people around me that really supported me and knew me, not the person that the press was talking about. They didn’t listen to the rumours that were going around about the case. They knew me.
“But even sometimes when you have other people, you can still feel lonely, you can still feel alone in that moment. So, I always try to just stay true to, ‘why am I going through this?’ and ‘how is it going to help me be stronger?’.
“Hardship is deliberately hard. It’s not easy and there’s no hard and fast way of getting through it, but you always must stay true to who you are. Don’t let it defeat you.”