Footballer Eniola Aluko Has Announced Her Retirement With A Powerful Letter About Her Experience In The Sport

'There were no professional female footballers back then,' she wrote of her beginnings. 'And it’s hard to chase something that you can’t see.'

Eniola Aluko

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

Eniola Aluko has retired from professional football at the age of 32, leaving Juventus FC Women for what she describes as a new chapter where she can ‘repay’ football for what the sport has helped her achieve.

In a powerful letter addressed to ‘my dear friend football’, Aluko announced her decision to retire early – the average age of retirement in football is 35 – and recalled her experience as a woman in football.

‘When we first met 25 years ago, I could never have imagined the crazy, unbelievable journey you would take me on,’ she wrote. ‘As you know, there were no professional female footballers back then. And it’s hard to chase something that you can’t see.’

Discussing how ‘the idea of turning pro was just unthinkable’ when she was young, she recalled being the only girl on her first football team and how her mum insisted she go to university. ‘Football was surely not going to pay the bills,’ she said. ‘I had to get a proper education.’

Of course, all that changed for Aluko when she was signed to St. Louis Athletica in the US – which she reveals was at the request of owner Jeff Cooper who also gave her a job in his law firm. After nearly two years in the club, she signed to Atlanta Beat ‘for a lot of money’ but wanted to leave later in the year and was traded to Sky Blue FC – a team in New Jersey she explicitly asked not to be sent to.

Women do not earn much in football. We play because we love the game

Aluko says she had been tempted to retire previously due to ‘the racism [and] abuse on social media’. Most notably, she was subject to racist abuse from England’s head coach Mark Sampson during her time playing for the national team.

‘Women do not earn much in football, we play because we love the game,’ she explained. ‘Sometimes I have thought, Is it worth it? Do I love you enough? And every time the answer has been yes.’

But Aluko says she feels proud to have been part of a generation that put women’s football on the map. ‘Girls today have role models. They can watch women play football on TV. Diversity and equality are on the agenda. Women are using their voices and their feet to break barriers all over the world.’

Eniola Aluko
©Getty Images

And now, she says she will go on to ensure that doesn’t stop – saying her next step will ‘drive the women’s game forward’. As one of the most successful and talented football players in the world, there’s no doubt she’ll have a string of job offers already. Aluko was the first woman to appear as pundit on BBC’s Match of the Day and has since commentated on a number of games, providing commentary for last year’s 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

‘I’ll be striving to give women key positions in football, to help get the game more coverage, finance and growth and new opportunities,’ she said. With her name so synonymous with breaking barriers, we have no doubt in her success to do so.

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