That's the goal

Not only is Eniola Aluko one of the world’s top soccer players, she’s also a big-time lawyer

“For us female players, money is not our motivation. Football is a huge sport but achievement really is our motivation”

Eniola Aluko of Chelsea appeared at the Women in the World Londong Summit on Friday, October 9, 2015. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Eniola Aluko, a.k.a. “Eni,” England’s top striker, led the Chelsea Ladies to victory in the women’s FA Cup for the first time on October 4. One of the top female strikers in the world, Aluko has been aiming for that title her whole career, ever since she first caught the attention of the English national team, at the age of 14.

Now 28, Aluko has emerged as a global leader in women’s football, helping shape her passion into the fastest-growing sport in the U.K.

“I’ve been through so much to be a women’s football player,” Aluko said at the Women in the World London Summit on Friday. “I wanted to create history, I wanted to win it for all the people who volunteer, I wanted to win it for so many other people than myself. That’s why it meant so much more than just a football match.”

Her career has paralleled the rise of women’s football into an increasingly popular sport. She first started playing at the age of 4, against her brother, Sone Aluko, who is also now a professional footballer. “My parents always encouraged me. Even though I was a girl who played football and it was a bit weird at the time, they always encouraged me to play and express myself,” Aluko said Friday.

She was drafted as the only girl on the school team. After that, she said, “I grew up feeling like it was quite cool to play football — it was always something that was accepted. But when coaches disagreed with it, I started to question myself,” Aluko said. “I looked at Serena and Venus williams, and I thought, ‘I want to be like them because they’re accepted, they’re celebrated.’ I didn’t say anything about it — it was really an internal battle, but I think your talent just proves you right.”

Still, Aluko never thought she’d be able to make a living as a professional footballer, so she pursued a law degree, balancing practices and exams, and is now accredited as an entertainment lawyer. She left law when Chelsea offered her a full-time contract two years ago, but plans to resume practicing once she retires from the sport.

Aluko’s brother may be making more than she is in the same profession, but she expressed that women’s football needs more time to develop and grow a fan base before wage equality can be achieved.

“It’s very much a commercial question. I think the ideal world would be for us to be paid ridiculous amounts of money like the male players, because we are the same, we’re just different sexes,” Aluko told BBC broadcaster Tina Daheley onstage at the Summit. “The reality is, women’s football is catching up to a religion, really — men’s football is like a religion. There’s so much money behind it, some of the clubs have been around for hundreds of years, and women’s football is very young.”

Increasing viewership for women’s games is starting to close the gap. But maybe men’s and women’s football shouldn’t have to compete. “For us female players, money is not our motivation. Football is a huge sport but achievement really is our motivation,” Aluko told the crowd.

“I think now we’re at the point where comparison isn’t necessary,” Aluko said. “Can women’s football be a professional sport unto itself and create its own economy?”

When Daheley asked her if it made her angry that her brother may be earning far more, Aluko said she “recognized very quickly that there was a benefit to me being a female footballer. I’ve traveled the world, I’ve played in America, I’ve met so many people as a result of having to balance two different things, and actually my brother envies that,” she said. “I always saw it as a benefit, it’s always something that’s been celebrated in my house.”

Now that she has the FA Cup title behind her, Aluko is recalibrating her goals for the future. “Complacency sometimes can set in when you’ve achieved your goals,” she said.

The one thing she’s certain of is that she’ll keep working to be a role model for young girls. “That’s the part that makes me the most proud,” Aluko told Daheley. “When a young girl comes up to me and says, ‘Eni, I really wanna be like you.’”

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