From Milan To Sheffield – What Exactly Went Wrong In The Career Of Oguchi Onyewu?

At six feet and five inches tall and monstrously strong, Oguchi Onyewu has all the physical attributes that one could want in a centre back, fast, aerial dominant and as strong as an ox, Onyewu brings a near unparalleled psychical dynamism to the field. A United States national of Nigerian descent, Onyewu’s promising career started at Clemson University, with moves to Metz in France and Liège in Belgium soon to follow.

Oguchi Onyewu
Oguchi Onyewu

It was in Belgian that the strapping American really shone, making well over 100 appearances for Standard Liège, winning three trophies, numerous individual awards and a Belgian passport. During this period, Onweyu was a mainstay within the United States national side; highly rated by Jürgen Klinsmann, Onweyu was a key member of the US squad for both the 2006 and 2010 World Cup. In January of 2007, Onweyu’s performances for Standard saw him earn a move on loan to Newcastle United. The Geordies had an option to buy, but Onweyu’s partnership with Titus Bramble was to be comically bad at times and it was the American’s occasional tendency to switch off mentally that was highlighted rather than his strong, physical defending style.

After the appointment of Sam Allardyce (another man with an ill-fated Newcastle career), Onweyu quickly fell out of favour in the North East. However, upon his return to Liège, ‘Gooch’ quickly found his form again, winning the Belgian First Division and Belgian Supercup in 2008, as well as continuing to star for the United States. Another league title shortly followed in 2009, and disappointing Newcastle spell aside, Onweyu did enough to convince Italian giants AC Milan to take a chance on the big defender. It should have been the pinnacle of Onweyu’s career; at his peak and at a huge European club with seven Champions League titles to their name, but with an ageing defence, Onweyu should have been able to seize a regular spot in the back four.

Fast forward to 2014 and Onweyu has recently joined Championship survival strugglers Sheffield, having failed to make an appearance at another Championship club, Q.P.R. Given that centre back is perhaps a position which is certainly not Q.P.R’s strongest, it is odd that Onweyu could not impress Redknapp enough to earn a spot in first team. So what went wrong? What happened in those five years since signing for Milan that has left Onweyu struggling for game time in a second-tier league?

The easiest answer is injury. A knee injury picked up with the national side saw Onweyu miss nearly all of the 2009-10 season and lose a yard of pace. So injury plagued was Onweyu’s spell at Milan that upon signing a contract extension in 2010, the American insisted that the extra year be without a salary in his efforts to prove himself and payback the club for their persistence with him. It was not be, Onweyu had fallen out of favour at the San Siro and injury had taken its toll, both physically and mentally; the Aerican made the headlines following a clash with Zlatan Ibrahimović, following a heavy challenge by the Swede. Circumstances always conspired against Onweyu’s career at Milan, and what followed has been an extended spell of club hopping.

Towards the end of his contract with Milan, Onweyu joined FC Twente on loan, going to make 14 appearances in a campaign that saw the Dutch club finish second in the Eredivisie and win the KNVB Cup. Despite the spell being largely successful, Onweyu did not join Twente permanently and instead signed for Sporting Lisbon in 2011. Onweyu was first choice during his time in Portugal, his performances alongside the 2002 World Cup winning Brazilian Ânderson Polga helping the sleeping giant to the Europa League semi-final. As with his time at Twente, Onweyu’s stay at Sporting was not to long lived, with an unsuccessful loan spell at Malaga followed by the mutual termination of his Sporting contract.

So that is how Onweyu found himself in England, first with Q.P.R, and now with Sheffield Wednesday. His has been an unlucky career so far, with Onweyu not only struggling with injuries, but often finding himself without a club despite good performances. If he can stay fit, Onweyu can at least expect plenty of game time with Sheffield. He has a lot to prove, but if the big American can help Wednesday to survive relegation from the Championship, then he might still be able to get his career back on track, with a 2014 World Cup place definitely up for grabs.

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