Nedum Onuoha of Manchester City fame has given a tell-all interview about how he rejected the chance to represent Nigeria in his playing days and the regret he feels as a result of that decision.
Nedum Onuoha was born in Warri, Delta State and emigrated to England with his parents as a toddler. They acquired their British citizenship when he was seven and Onuoha began his football journey soon after, joining Manchester City’s youth set-up in 1996 at age ten. He progressed well under the tutelage of the coaches and was a key part of their reserve side.
His performances in the 2003/04 season in the Premier League 2 earned him a call up to the club’s first team the following season, and he spent eight years as a member of Manchester City’s first team. He was also good enough to feature in the age-grade set-up of the England national team, playing 21 times across all the levels in a four-year period.
Like many Nigerian players in England, he hoped for an England call-up but it never came. Meanwhile, he was approached by two different Super Eagles managers, one of whom was Berti Vogts. He rejected both call-ups, citing the negative comments from his club, teammates and even the media in England about the African Cup of Nations and African football in general, as the reason for his snubbing Nigeria, a problem that still persists to this day.
Fear of losing Manchester City spot pushed Onuoha to reject Nigeria
Onuoha said in an interview with Sports Mole: “In the lead up to the AFCON championships, you could hear how people were speaking ill of it, the timing of it, not taking it seriously and the like, and that frustrated me so I was continually pushing back, pushing back against it and initially when I was [at Man City] under Mancini, I said to Berti Vogts, the then Nigeria manager, that I couldn’t go because I wasn’t comfortable in my club position.
“[At the time, I felt] that you would fall down the pecking order if you decided to go and play for your national team. This would never be the case if you were playing for England or if you were playing for another European nation.”
Onuoha continued: “I had been drinking the Kool-Aid and I fell into that mindset; I think I missed that because if in a late part of my career that option would have ever come, I would have gone.
“If a club wants to punish you for representing your country, I think that’s not a problem for you; that’s a problem for them, that’s their situation, their perception of other countries because at the end of the day, you’re not really picking where you are from, so why should you be criticised because of it?
“In some ways, it was a bit of a regret but then in the same breath [because] I didn’t have those experiences then I wouldn’t be perceiving things the way that I do today. So I do appreciate that and I would have loved to have worn the shirt but I’m just going to have to support from a distance now.”
This article was most recently revised and updated 9 months ago