Samson should rethink Aluko snub
''Commiserations tonight England. Some great performances all tournament,'' Eniola Aluko tweeted just after the Three Lionesses' heartbreaking 3-0 semifinal defeat by the Netherlands, 2017 UEFA Women's Euro hosts and eventual finalists.
It had been 149 days since an England defeat -- a 1-0 defeat by Germany in the SheBelieves Cup in March -- with the team winning eight and drawing one of their nine games since.
This time, Aluko's role wasn't going to be leading her national team's attack against the same team she had made her senior international debut against 13 years ago.
Instead, her testing brief was to watch on from pitchside, watching her teammates play, fight and sweat without her, and offer insight and analysis on their performance.
However, it wasn't through choice that Aluko was absent this summer, with the Nigerian-born forward having been overlooked for the tournament squad.
Mark Sampson took over the England women's national team from Hope Powell after the European Championship in 2013, and was tasked with reviving the team after a troubled end to his predecessor's tenure.
The last four years have been successful; Samson won bronze at the 2015 World Cup and lifted the Cyprus Cup.
In this context, Aluko's absence, while eye-catching, is not wholly unexpected.
Often an outspoken figure in the dressing room, the Chelsea star, 30, has donned the England crest at the best and worst of times, receiving ovation and criticism in equal measure.
Samson has no shortage of depth, and despite Aluko top scoring in the FA Women's Super League in 2016 and making the team of the season, the coach clearly feels that he has enough firepower at his disposal to leave her out.
Aluko told BBC Radio Five Live in April that while she hadn't spoken to the coach in over a year, he'd never closed the door on her international career.
"All my life, I've always looked at performance to justify rewards you get. Mark Sampson has publicly said he doesn't pick on form so the other criteria [are] popularity, team dynamics and character," she said. "The message this is sending out is if you are popular with the manager you get into the team.
"You don't have to perform," Aluko added. "It's a dangerous message to send out, particularly to young players."
Perhaps Samson's decision has been influenced by the forward's consistent failure to perform on the biggest stage for England.
Despite being England's fifth all-time top scorer with 33 goals in 103 outings, only three of her goals have come in major tournaments...and she's never netted in a World Cup.
"Mark likes to pick specific people for specific games and if you become complacent in the squad, you're knocking your chances of playing," Manchester City defender Lucy Bronze speculated in April, as reported by The Guardian.
Regardless of the exact reason why Samson overlooked Aluko, the fact that England were eliminated by the Netherlands -- in front of 27 000 in the stadium and over nine million viewers at home -- without scoring a goal in their semifinal, inevitably raises the question of whether he was reckless to leave one of the nation's most established forward's out of the side.
Could England have also benefited from Aluko's experience in the business end of the competition? Her leadership and personality has never been doubted, and these assets could certainly have helped the Lionesses through the testing showdown with the Netherlands.
The diminutive forward also offers creativity, pace and can take players on; she'd have been a valuable counterpoint to Samson's long-ball approach, while her versatility could have reduced the pressure on Jodie Taylor.
For a side arguably lacking in subtlety, Aluko was a big loss.
Her most devastating weapon perhaps, is her knack of scoring all types of goals; something that could have been a plus for the Lionesses. Her powerful headers and long-range strikes were needed on a day when Netherlands affected their rhythm, composure, possession and chances.
As the cracks began to show from the 2-1 win over Portugal where they were troubled for pace; 1-0 win over France where they were starved off space and finally the 3-0 loss to the hosts, where they were contained by a robust midfield, the dynamism of having the league's top scorer could have been advantageous.
There's a lingering sense that England would have been better served with Aluko on the field, rather than watching on from the TV Studio.
With France 2019 on the horizon, Samson should think twice about snubbing one of England's most talented offensive options.