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Nedum Onuoha On Man City, Sunderland, QPR, RSL, And Transformative Tevez

Nedum Onuoha On Man City, Sunderland, QPR, RSL, And Transformative Tevez

An interview with Nedum Onuoha, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You came through the youth system at Manchester City and played for the first team under several managers during a transitional period for the club. What did playing for City mean to you? 

“To be honest, it meant everything in the moment and meant even more after I had left because I got the chance to see that playing for your hometown club is more of a privilege than an expectation.

“I still support the club today so to look back and know that I was able to play for the club that I supported as a kid and now is truly amazing.

“I appreciate all of the clubs that I played for but my early years at Manchester City are a big part of my heart because to this day, I am still a familiar face in and around the club.”

You worked under some high-profile managers in Kevin Keegan, Stuart Pearce, Sven Göran Eriksson, Mark Hughes and Roberto Mancini. What was it like to work under managers of that ilk?

“They were all different. I caught the last days of Kevin Keegan and he was the manager who brought me along with the first team at the age of 16 and gave me my first team debut.

“He was very good and a nice guy around the place. Then he left and Stuart Pearce, who was one of his assistants, replaced him.

“He was also good but different to Kevin. Following Stuart was the arrival of Sven who was a former England manager like Kevin Keegan was.

“He was the first foreign manager that City had in the Premier League era, and this is 2007. It was different again as the mentality towards football changed with his approach.

“Another manager of international experience, Mark Hughes, then comes in after Sven and he was very professional with everything but he makes way for Mancini who came with a huge reputation.

“Although there were managerial changes, they all made perfect sense at the time because the football club changed a lot during my time there and they were the right managers for the moment that they came to the club.

“I am fortunate to have been at the club to see those changes and play throughout most of it.”

I have to ask you about Joe Hart and Micah Richards who both wrote a foreword in your book. You all came through the club at a similar time. How important was it to come through the system and into the first team with friends like that?

“Again, it was more privilege than expectation, and to come through with familiar faces and players like that was great because they could empathise with what you were going through. We were all in it together and rooting for each other.

“When you have that connection, when something good happens to one of you then it feels like it has happened to all of you. That is a special position to be in because you do not know how long you are going to be at that club with that group for.

“It was fantastic for us to break into the team and for the fans to know that the academy was producing talent.

“I think fans more often than not want to see one of their own representing them on the field and doing well. I think we managed to give the fans some moments like that along the way.”

City made some high-profile signings post takeover such as Robinho and Carlos Tevez. Coming directly from Manchester United made the Tevez signing feel transformational at the time. Did it feel that way for you and the players at the club too?

“Carlos was great on and off the field. His level of quality and finishing was unbelievable.

“We had just stolen one of Manchester United’s prized assets and I never thought that could be the case based on what I had seen growing up as a City fan.

“We had signed some former United players who were world-class at their peak such as Andrew Cole and Peter Schmeichel who were coming to the end of their careers. Whereas Carlos was coming in at his peak and he was a current Argentine international.

“You learned from him in training such was the quality of his movement and how he pressed from the front.

“As a defender, you had to play at your best in training just to avoid being humiliated by him. He was fantastic at raising standards all of the pitch.”

You had a loan spell at Sunderland in the 2010/11 season. What attracted you to the club?

“I had spoken with Frazier Campbell who was at Sunderland during that time and he told me how good the set-up and the manager was.

“It was an easy decision for me because, at that stage of my career, it was the first time that I was told that I had to go elsewhere if I wanted to play regular football.

“That feeling of someone saying we want you made it easy to go there and my time at Sunderland was one of the most enjoyable seasons of my career.

“We finished in the top ten of the Premier League which is a strong achievement considering where the club have been in recent years.

“We had some top players such as Jordan Henderson, Danny Welbeck, Steed Malbranque and Darren Bent just to name a few.

“I somehow won goal of the season that year as well. It was a time that I look back on fondly as I was made to feel wanted by the club and I played week in, week out when I was available.”

What was Steve Bruce like to work with being an ex-centre-back himself as a player?

“Steve Bruce has managed over 1,000 games which shows you that he must be a good manager.

“He was straightforward with you and made it clear that he believed in his coaches and that they were a team together. If you spoke to any of them then they were on the same hymn sheet as the manager.

“He wanted to foster positive team spirit in the dressing room but also made it clear that training would be hard and that you had to perform.

“On a Saturday, if the right intent was there then he would not go over the top with his criticism if something went wrong.

“He had experienced the highs and the lows of football before as a player and as a manager so it was good as players to look at a manager who had the experience to handle any situation that came his and the team’s way.

“That was apparent when we lost 5-1 to Newcastle away. He did not panic and set out his stall that we had to win the supporters back and that we could only do that by playing well consistently and moving up the table which we did to reach our goals.”

What was your return to Manchester City under Roberto Mancini like?

“It was frustrating because I did well at Sunderland and I thought that I would be in contention for more first-team opportunities when I returned.

“Then, two days before the start of the season, I was told that I was not even going to be allowed to train with the first team.

“That was tough to deal with because it was my football club who told me that. It stung particularly because I was never any trouble.

“It is fair enough not to be wanted but it is another thing to tell someone that you do not want them around at all. I took that personally.

“The next six months from there saw me feature in one league game and a handful of League Cup games. I was allowed to train with the first team after the transfer window closed but during the summer window, I was training with the under 18’s which was weird because I was just there at the club.

“One of the worst things in football in my experience is when you train for nothing because, in that situation, you are not building up to anything so you are just aimlessly preparing and doing your best.

“It made me think: are you really being paid to be a footballer if you are not playing in the games themselves?

“Wayne Bridge was also in that position and it was frustrating for both of us because we had no say at all.

“So, when QPR and Mark Hughes showed interest in me, it was a no-brainer to leave the club and join them in the January of 2012 because all I wanted to do was play football.

“You never know how long your career will last so you cannot waste a year sitting around and not playing because it could be your last season for whatever reason.”

You left City in January and found yourself returning to the Etihad on the last day of the season to face the club with QPR on the day that they won the title in the most dramatic of circumstances. Did you have mixed emotions that day? 

“My emotions were not as mixed as they could have been due to the nature of how I left.

“At that point, I did not love City as a supporter as I did as a kid, or as I do now, because I did not get on with the management.

“I was looking forward to seeing some of the players, staff and the fans but the most important thing going into that day for me was securing QPR’s Premier League survival.

“That was my present and my future.

“Travelling on the train up to Manchester for an away game was strange as I had never done that before.

“Staying in a hotel and arriving at the Etihad as an away player, saying hello to all of the faces at the club that I recognised from my time there but them not wishing me good luck was also strange. As was going into the away dressing room pre-match as I had never even seen what it looked like until that moment.

“Thankfully, the beauty of football means that once a game starts then you have full focus on it. Are we winning? Are we losing? Am I playing well? Do I need to change anything? Can I change anything? Those are the thoughts that occupy your mind.

“As a consequence, it was just another match until it wasn’t and we stay up and City win the title for the first time in the Premier League era. It was surreal.”

Your time at QPR is full of ups and downs. You were relegated a year after your return to City then Harry Redknapp took over and returned the club to the Premier League. Another relegation followed and you worked under managers such as Ian Holloway and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. How do you reflect on your time at QPR as a whole?

“It was a rollercoaster. The club went through so many different stages because we just stayed up in 2012, tried to kick on in 2013 and it did not work out because we had a diverse group of players and when we won, it was great, but when we didn’t then it was not stable.

“We did not win for 15 games at the start of that season either which was not helpful.

“We go down and there is a max exodus because the players we brought in during the summer of 2012 had no intention of playing in the Championship.

“Harry scrapes us up and back into the Premier League and we fall short again upon our return which sees him leave.

“After that, we went through a new manager every 12/18 months and that is never helpful for any club. You do not really move forward when you work like that because there is no time to build an identity.

“Despite that, I met lots of good people at QPR and it was a privilege to captain the club for three years.

“I was incredibly proud to do that and to play over 200 games for the club means a lot to me because that was nearly half of the games that I had played in during my career.

“I am immensely proud to have worn those Hoops.”

You were linked to Celtic when Brendan Rodgers was in charge. Was that move ever close to fruition? 

“It was not that close. A lot of transfers and links are nothing more than paper talk.

“Close to me is when a club makes an offer and you have to make a decision on whether to take it. Things never reached that point with Celtic.

“It turned out that a few years later, I was made an offer by Rangers before I moved to MLS. One of their directors spoke to me and I had to make a decision but I had made my mind up to go to America although I did quite fancy the prospect of playing under Steven Gerrard.

“I did not turn it down to do something else as such because I had already committed to Real Salt Lake.

“Both clubs in Glasgow are prestigious clubs and although nothing was too concrete, conversations were had over the years for sure.”

Last but not least, Nedum, how would you sum up your memories of playing in MLS at Real Salt Lake?

“I am someone who has always watched football from across the globe. I enjoy English football but I watch as much football as I can.

“I like the thought of seeing different cultures and after I left QPR, my initial plan was to return North.

“However, that option was not there for me at that time so I spoke to my wife who said that we should go on an adventure.

“I was fortunate that I was on solid financial ground in the sense that I did not need to steal every single penny which some players, unfortunately, have to do later on in their career.

“The option to go MLS was there for me and I grasped the opportunity and loved my two years out there.

“I loved going to brand new stadiums and playing against new players for the first time in around 14 years.

“I also had to find my place within a new team and a new footballing culture whereas in England everyone knows everyone.

“I remember facing Vancouver Whitecaps in my first start and having an attacker running at me and not knowing if he was right or left footed or what he ordinarily did when he got into those positions. As strange as it may sound, that felt great because it was like being 17 again and making my debut in the game all over again. I loved that feeling.

“Travelling across America to cities that ordinarily, I may not have gone to, was brilliant.

“It was a nice ending to my playing career and now, I am loving every minute of being a pundit and working when I want to work and covering live football. There is no better feeling than that.”