Exclusive - Eniola Aluko has described her former club Chelsea being in the Champions League final as a ‘massive’ moment for the Women’s Super League as a whole, as it serves to highlight both the quality of the competition and create a strong advert for potential investment.
Having previously made it as far as semi-finals in 2018 and 2019, Chelsea will face Barcelona in the final in Gothenburg on Sunday and are the first English club to reach this stage of the competition since Arsenal won the previously branded UEFA Women’s Cup in 2007.
The WSL has been building its reputation in recent years as a world class league able to attract the best players as well as big investors, both commercially and for broadcasting, with Chelsea’s place in the single biggest game on the calendar further strengthening that status.
“[It’s] massive. I think it’s really an indication of where the WSL is in terms of its standing in the world of women’s football,” Aluko told 90min.
“I think we’ve seen a lot of investment and a lot of teams that are Premier League clubs invest in their women’s teams and the testimony for that is Chelsea in the Champions League final. If that is not an indication of what investment over a long period of time in the women’s game can do, I’m not sure what is.
“I think it’s a great advert for the league, a great advert for long-term investment in women’s football, a great advert for what a professional, winning setup looks like in Chelsea women, and a great advert for the club with the men’s and women’s team in the Champions League final.
“As a player who played there for such a long time, as a fan, and as someone with friends on that team and at the club, I’m very proud to say that Chelsea are now the kind of beacon of what it looks like and what it takes.”
Aside from being a huge moment for English women’s football, this year’s Champions League final will also serve to bring further balance to the women’s game at a European level.
Lyon have famously dominated the competition in recent seasons, winning the last five in a row, but there will be a brand new winner one way or the other in 2021. This will also be just the third final in 20 seasons of women’s UEFA competition that hasn’t featured either a French or German team.
“I think there is a power shift,” Aluko said.
“I remember watching the Champions League final last year and I was kind of annoyed and disappointed. It wasn’t like a Champions League final that you would expect between two teams and it was just the dominance of Lyon that was quite predictable.
“Now, to see two teams with different styles, that aren’t from the French or German leagues, I think it’s really important for the game.”
The Women’s Champions League has already been revamped for next season to further develop the competition and bring it more in line with the men’s equivalent. UEFA has made a bigger prize fund available, making it more financially lucrative to the clubs involved, while it will also feature a group stage for the first time, replacing the straight knockout format.
Aluko thinks that the group stage in particular is an important change because it gives clubs the opportunity to play more European football, allowing players to develop greater experience at a higher club level, compared to the old format potentially meaning early elimination after one tie.
“The group stage is an incredible advancement,” Aluko explained. “I remember in my first year at Juventus, they were asking for it then because it’s so hard. Owners invest to build teams to be ready for the Champions League and you’re out before you’ve even got in it.
“You want at least a bit more experience in the Champions League to be able to be ready. I think the group stage is going to be great for the game and for teams to gain more experience of the Champions League.
“You’ll have at least six games to know it takes before you’re knocked out rather than just straight knockout. [In the current format] it’s like being in a boxing match and being knocked out before you’ve even got your gloves on. I think it’s really important.”
BT Sport has live coverage of the UEFA Women’s Champions League final between Chelsea Women and Barcelona Women live from 7.15pm on Sunday 16th May on BT Sport 2.