NEDUM BECOMES MARATHON MAN
One-time speedster in for the long-haul with Rangers
LIFE in the Championship has been a marathon for former sprinter Nedum Onuoha who beat Team GB’s Craig Pickering in a 100m dash when they were both 14.
Onuoha, 27, is now preparing for a play-off campaign with Rangers, desperate to turn out in the Premier League again come August.
He’s had his chance in the top flight before, playing 95 games for Manchester City and captaining the side.
But the brilliant student, who received three A-grades at Alevel in maths, business studies and IT, was not wanted by Roberto Mancini and left on loan to Sunderland before joining QPR two years ago under former City boss Mark Hughes.
With Harry Redknapp in charge this season, Rangers had been expected to storm the second tier with their squad packed with talent and the experience of Richard Dunne, Niko Kranjcar and Rob Green.
But central defender Onuoha says it is easy to underestimate the strains of what could now be a 49-game league season for the R’s.
“It is a different type of toughness in the Championship – there are so many games and there is always a quick turnaround,” he said.
“Most of the squad had never played in the Championship before. We might have some of the best players but if you have not played in the Championship, you don’t know what it’s about.
“It is very, very different. In terms of the effort you could argue that you have to do more physically than in the Premier League on a week-by-week basis.”
Onuoha retains the athleticism which saw him clock 11.09 for second place in the final of the 2001 English Schools’ Athletics Association Junior 100 metres, beating Pickering in the process.
He is also still the co-national record holder for boys under 15 standing triple jump.
He says: “I have been playing professional football now for ten years so this is a time when you have learnt a lot about the game and about yourself and you understand the game a lot more.
“Myself and lots of other players wanted to play in the Premier League with QPR. We do have a duty to get the club back in the position we want it to be.”
One thing QPR can boast above all else in the division is depth – Junior Hoilett, Kevin Doyle and Bobby Zamora all came off the bench against Millwall last weekend.
Onuoha himself has been battling for a central defensive berth with veterans Dunne, Clint Hill and Aaron Hughes but he knows fewer personal opportunities are a good omen for the final stretch.
“Very few players have played every game this season so hopefully things work out our way,” he said. “There will be players who have been relatively fresh coming into it and they can add something different.
“I would have liked to have played more. I got quite a serious hamstring injury at the start of the season and when I came back in Richard Dunne and Clint Hill were doing very well. You can’t argue with that.
“It is time to knuckle down and show you deserve a place. I think it is one of those things in sport – you can’t take your foot off the pedal because then you have missed your opportunity.”
For Onuoha, maintaining those levels is not just important to stay in the team, but also to ensure Rangers have hit their stride by the time that semi-final first leg kicks off.
Following defeat in all three away trips last month, the former England U21 international knows preparation has not been perfect – but anything can happen in the play-offs.
He added: “You tend to see in years gone by that it is the teams who have won seven out of their last ten that are the teams to avoid in the play-offs – the ones that slip into that last spot off the back of a good run. It is only going to give you more confidence.
“It would be disappointing not to go up. At the start of the season that was the one clear goal. But that goal is still within our grasp.”
CONCENTRATION: Nedum Onuoha, left, and Watford’s Daniel Tozser in action