When the news of Oguchi Onyewu’s signing with Italian giants AC Milan broke, former US star Alexi Lalas smiled. The only American international to play in Serie A in the modern era, Lalas was pleased to see another compatriot finally get a chance in Italy’s top league and believes the Rossoneri’s decision to sign Onyewu was very intelligent.
“I think it’s incredibly smart move by AC Milan,” Lalas told Goal.com. “Defense has obviously been a weakness for Milan and from an economic standpoint it was also obvious that they weren’t going to spend lavishly. So they had to be smart with their money. Onyewu isn’t a big name player, he’s relatively young, he’s inexpensive and as far as I’m concerned he’s as good a centerback as what they already have.”
“Gooch,” as Onyewu is nicknamed, arrives in Milan on a free transfer from Belgian side Standard Liege. The 6’4” centerback was a big part of the back-to-back championships won by Les Rouches and the side’s run to the knockout stage of last season’s UEFA Cup. These experiences have been vital to his progress, Lalas says, and were definitely a factor in the signing.
“Regardless of the fact that he’s American, he has proven himself in Europe, albeit at a smaller league,” Lalas said. “Milan have been able to track him and see him play.”
Lalas, who played for Calcio Padova in Serie A from 1994-96, has no advice for Onyewu except to “learn Italian as quickly as possible.” The pressure, Lalas says, will not come from the jersey Onyewu is wearing but the passport he holds.
“Obviously playing at one of the world’s biggest clubs there will be pressure,” Lalas said. “But on the other hand, you’re also playing with very good players. The pressure will be more because he’s an American than the fact that he’s playing at AC Milan.”
But Lalas believes Onyewu has the tools to overcome any of the pressures and succeed in Italy’s top league.
“Most Italian clubs have at least one big forward, an Ibrahimovic, a Iaquinta, or whoever, and I think he’ll match up very well against those big forwards that a lot of these teams have,” Lalas said. “As a matter of fact, I think he’ll gobble them up.”
For more on Americans in Europe, visit Goal.com's Americans Abroad page.