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Eni Aluko signs with Juventus, takes on challenge of growing women’s football in Italy

She’s done it in England and the USA, now it’s Italy’s turn

Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Eniola Aluko is once again breaking new ground.

After six seasons with Chelsea FC Women, she’s moving to Italy and taking on a brand new challenge. That’s often a cliche that’s used to create a story around transfers, but in Aluko’s case, it’s very much the actual truth. The team she’s joining, Juventus FC Women, has one of the most famous names in all of football, but has in fact existed (in its current form) for less than a year.

Last June, Juventus bought the Serie A license of a smaller club about 100km south of Turin, ASD Cuneo Calcio Femminile, signed over a dozen new players and officially fielded a senior women’s team for the very first time. In a sign of the league’s relative weakness and poverty, and Juventus’ natural desire to dominate all Italian competitions, they immediately won the title.

“After being at Chelsea for six years, I was really hungry for a new experience and playing in Europe was, for me, something I always wanted to do, particularly after playing in the Champions League and sampling the styles of the other teams.

“And when I came to Juventus and spoke to Stefano (Braghin, head of the Juventus academy and women’s football initiative) straightaway I was really impressed by the ambition of the club and what Juventus are doing in the women’s game.”

Women’s football has, until recently, been an afterthought in Italy. Although there’s been an official women’s league since 1968, it’s been populated with underfunded teams from small markets. The most successful, with seven titles, is ASD Torres Calcio Femminilie, who are from the island of Sardinia. There’s no team from either Milan club (an unofficial ACF Milan team, who had been in business for 25 years, folded five years ago), no Napoli, and just a small team from Roma. Lazio had been basically the only top side in Italy to bother with a women’s team.

But the times, they are a-changing. Growing the sport in a new country — something she’s already done in the United States and in England — is a challenge that Aluko embraces.

“Throughout my career I’ve been in positions where I can be a trailblazer so it’s not something I’m scared of. But I would say that Juventus are the trailblazers. I think to start a team and win the league in the first year, to make the Champions League, I think that’s going to really raise the bar for other teams in Italy and raise the professionalism of the league.”

One thing we know about Aluko is that she’s fearless. In 2009 she left Chelsea for the first time to move to the United States and play for St. Louis in Women’s Professional Soccer, the country’s first professional women’s league. She stayed for three seasons and three teams before moving back to England, eventually re-joining Chelsea FC just in time to help popularize the women’s game in England.

In the 73 matches since she scored 32 goals, won two league titles and two FA Cups. She was also named the Chelsea‘s Player of the Year in 2015 and made the WSL Team of the Year that same season. She scored Chelsea FC Women’s 100th goal of the season last month in her final appearance as a Blue.

Recently, Aluko was also unflinching in the face of the powerful Football Association when she called out racism within the England national team’s management. She eventually won an apology and a settlement award.

And now, at 31 years of age, this intrepid and pioneering player is once again taking on a new challenge. We wish her only the very best.

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