Goal.com Profile: Oguchi Onyewu

With his huge move to AC Milan in the books, Goal.com’s Shane Evans takes a closer look at the man they call ‘Gooch’.
Quick Start

Born in Washington D.C., Onyewu’s parents were natives of Nigeria and had moved to the states not long before his birth. Growing up playing soccer, Onyewu attended Sherwood High School and played for two years, before joining the U.S. residency program in Florida.

After graduating from the program and Sherwood, Onyewu enrolled at Clemson where he played two seasons. That was all the domestic soccer he’d experience as before his junior year began he signed with FC Metz of France’s Ligue 1.

Standard Procedure

Only making three appearances for Metz during his three seasons as a player at the club, two of them loaned out to La Louviere and Standard Liege, a move away was imminent. It was Standard Liege, the second club who had been on loan with, who sought a permanent deal for then 22-year-old defender.

Signing officially with Liege in 2004, Onyewu was an instant hit in Belgium, and after his first season with his new team, was named to the Jupiler League’s best XI for 2005.

Onyewu experienced four more seasons in Belgium, netting an impressive 179 appearances for Standard in the process. During that time, they won two Jupiler League titles, a Belgian Supercup and were runners up in the Belgian Cup.

In an effort to stick with a bigger club, Onyewu spent the second half of the 2007 season on-loan at Newcastle, but wasn’t able to hold down a first-team place and returned to Standard later that year.

Speculation grew towards the end of last season that Onyewu was ready to move on after five years of devoted service with Les Rouches. His hesitation to renew his contract were the main reason for the rumors.

Those rumors became founded as the summer hit and no contract was decided upon. A whole host of clubs had been interested in acquiring his signature before the transfer window opened, with newly promoted Wolverhampton and Birmingham of the English Premier League said to be high on the list. Other clubs included Marsielle, PSG, Borussia M’Gladbach and Fulham.

Rising On The World Stage

In this summer’s Confederations Cup, Onyewu significantly raised his stock when he put in a host of dazzling performances for the U.S. Men’s National Team.

Pitted against some of the world’s best strikers, Onyewu held his own and was an integral part of the team’s dramatic run to the final.

Particularly in their match against Spain, it was the defense that kept the game the way it was, with Onyewu’s unwavering determination to command his area deeming too much for the likes of David Villa and Fernando Torres who couldn’t crack the U.S. back four.

His play in that match, and in the final against Brazil, with everyone watching, greatly increased his stock and brought his name to the lips of some of the bigger club teams in the world. Following the tournament he was rumored to sign with Real Madrid, but when it was all said and done, it was AC Milan who won the race to his signature.

Les Rouches for Rossoneri

In what is undoubtedly the biggest move of his career, AC Milan signed Onyewu on a free transfer on July 7th, 2009. With the retirement of Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta’s uncertain health and the return of Philippe Senderos to Arsenal, there was an obvious void in Milan’s back four.

Onyewu should fill it nicely.

It remains to be seen if Milan bring anymore bodies to bulk up their defense, but for now, Onyewu is a signing that should excite Rossoneri fans everywhere. With the signing, he becomes only the second American player in the modern era to sign with a Serie A team, following USMNT great Alexi Lalas, who spent a year with Padova.

"He keeps it simple,” said Lalas of the towering Onyewu. “He won’t be asked to do things he’s not comfortable with doing. When you have a Pirlo or someone like that, it’s simple: get the ball to the guys that create. "


Strength Is His Strength

Onyewu has always been known to possess incredible strength in his vigorously maintained 6’4” body. He has the ability to hold off forwards and is excellent in the air.

In essence, they are two of the most valuable traits for a central defender to have: ability in the air and power. It doesn’t stop there for Onyewu, however. His tackling skills are first rate and he plays with confidence.

His experience in Europe will also benefit him at Milan as he has taken part in continental competitions and could be considered a cultured defender, having tasted life in England, France and Standard’s Belgium.

No Need To Panic

One of the few things that Onyewu has been knocked for in his playing career has been his sometimes hasty movement of the ball when under pressure. Some argue that it cost him a permanent deal at Newcastle as the pairing of him and Titus Bramble turned out to be a complete mess with neither player performing particularly well.

It has also been said that his lack of pace could be an issue, particular in a fast-paced team like Milan. Thankfully, his lanky frame seems to make up for the speed problem and he is able to reach balls with mysterious quickness.

In Person

Check out the video below of Onyewu speaking following the USMNT's victory over Honduras in World Cup Qualifying.

Particulars

Name: Oguchialu Chijioke Goma Lambu Onyewu

Born:
May 13th, 1982 (Washington, D.C.)

Club History:
Metz (2002-04), La Louviere (loan - 2003), Standard Liege (2004-09), Newcastle (loan - 2007), Milan (2009 - )

Club Honors

Jupiler League Champions: 2008/09, 2007/08
Jupiler League Runners-up: 2005/06
Belgian Cup Runners-up: 2007
Belgian Supercup Winners: 2008

Individual Honors

Jupiler League Best XI: 2004/05, 2007/08
Jupiler League Foreign Player of the Year: 2005
U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year: 2006

Shane Evans, Goal.com

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