England Women manager Mark Sampson says his “conscience is clear” following allegations of bullying, discrimination and racism made by striker Eni Aluko.
Sampson was cleared by an internal Football Association inquiry into Aluko’s claims, and by an independent investigation.
He said on Tuesday that he intends to carry on in charge of the team that lost to Holland in the Euro 2017 semi-finals.
Sampson also said he would be willing to meet with Aluko to discuss the complaints raised by the 102-cap striker, who has been absent from the England squad since submitting her complaint to the FA in May 2016.
Speaking at Wembley Stadium, Sampson said: “Since the allegations have come to public knowledge I’ve had universal support from the players and the staff, who have confirmed they are behind me and want to continue working in the way we have been working, to do our best to achieve more success.”
Sampson was speaking in public for the first time since it emerged last month that he had been under investigation.
Since then, shadow sports minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, along with anti-racism group Kick It Out and the Professional Footballers’ Association, have called for a new investigation, insisting it should be open and transparent.
England’s manager, appointed in late 2013, was cleared by the independent investigation led by barrister Katharine Newton, but there have been questions raised about whether the case has been fully and adequately examined.
Sampson has denied wrongdoing from day one, and said: “As far as I’m concerned, over the course of the last six months I’ve answered all the questions that have been asked of me, and done everything I can to make sure I’ve told the truth.
“These allegations were investigated thoroughly and now we’re in a position where I feel strongly that we need to move on and continue to work hard to bring more success to this team.”
Asked if he would be prepared to meet Aluko, Sampson said: “I’ve made it very clear, from the moment I spoke with Eni face to face (to say) that she would be left out of the squad, that at any point I’d be available to meet again.
“And I have (been available) over the course of the allegations being brought as best as I possibly could within the guidelines of what I was allowed, and that still remains the case.
“As with any England player, I’m open to a phone call or a sit-down conversation to discuss whatever they feel they need to discuss to help us move forward as a team.”
The 34-year-old added: “From my position I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m sat here again denying the accusations and my conscience is clear.
“It’s a very difficult position and situation to have been through both professionally and emotionally but I’ve stayed professional and got on with my job.
“Over the course of these investigations I’ve prepared a team and coached a team at a major championship and I’ve been cleared of any wrongdoing. There has been no wrongdoing on my part.”
Aluko accepted an £80,000 settlement after the investigations concluded, which the FA said it made “to avoid disruption to the squad’s preparations” for Euro 2017. She also continues to have an FA central contract, usually the preserve of regular England players, which brings her a further substantial five-figure sum.
When asked about the first of those payments, which has been interpreted by some as ‘hush money’, Sampson said: “The decision was out of my control. It was a process I fully respected.”
The FA has denied the sum was paid to prevent disclosure.
Although Sampson has said there is a possible route back into the England squad for Aluko, telling Sky Sports News it was “absolutely” the case, that prospect appears highly unlikely while he remains in charge.
Last year she was the top goalscorer in the Women’s Super League for Chelsea Ladies but was frozen out of the England set-up, with Sampson insistent his squads were selected on merit rather than by any other measure.
On August 21 of this year she alleged Sampson had told her to make sure her Nigerian relatives did not bring the Ebola virus to the high-profile friendly against Germany at Wembley in November 2014.
Sampson flatly denies that claim, as with all others levelled against him, including the allegation central to the main investigation that during a midfielders’ meeting at the China Cup in 2015 he made racist comments to a mixed-race player.
Sampson was alleged to have said to the unnamed player, as part of a role-playing session: “Haven’t you been arrested before? Four times isn’t it?”
He insists the culture of the England camp is positive.
But he knows there has been a negative response to the allegations by many members of the public.
“I can’t control what other people think and other people feel,” Sampson told Press Association Sport.
“I wanted to sit here today to be clear that my conscience is clear. I’ve been proven (to have committed) no wrongdoing, I’ve denied the accusations and I’m in a position where I want to move forward, but I cannot control what other people feel and think.
“I also understand that that’s what comes with the territory of being the England manager. I’ve felt that from day one and I know I’ll feel it for as long as I remain working with this team.
“Over the course of three and a half years in the job it’d be impossible to recall all the conversations I’ve had with the players, but in relation to the allegations, as I have done from the outset, I’ve denied them, I’ve made that very clear. I have done nothing wrong but communication is a key skill and I’m in a position where I need to have a number of honest and difficult conversations.”
He dismissed any suggestion of his squads being picked along racially-biased lines, after Aluko alleged, in a recent interview with the Guardian, that the culture of the England squad “systematically dismissed certain players”.
“It’s absolutely not the case,” Sampson said. “If you look at the squad selections that I’ve named over the last three and a half years there would be no evidence at all to suggest any bias.”
Reporting by PA Sport