NE­DUM ON­UOHA

The QPR cap­tain ex­plains why the pun­dits have got his side all wrong

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Chris Dunlavy

WE ALL know why QPR aren’t go­ing up. Too many egos. Too many big earn­ers di­vid­ing the dress­ing room. Too many mer­ce­nar­ies ek­ing out their con­tracts.

Harry Red­knapp couldn’t hack it. Chris Ram­sey fared even worse. All Jimmy Floyd Has­sel­baink can do is wade through to the sea­son’s end and hack out the dead­wood. Right?

“To­tally wrong,” in­sists an ex­as­per­ated Ne­dum On­uoha, the Hoops’ 29-year-old cap­tain. “I get so frus­trated hear­ing that stuff. I have done for many years, ac­tu­ally.

“Yes, the club had prob­lems in the past. That’s no se­cret. But I can hon­estly say that this sea­son has been amaz­ing.

“OK, we haven’t played as well as we

could have done. But in terms of spirit and the peo­ple I go to work with, I’ve en­joyed it more than any other year of my ca­reer.

“Ask the guys who left in Jan­uary. They may have gone on loan or maybe stepped up to the Premier League. But they all went with a heavy heart be­cause they en­joyed the en­vi­ron­ment here.

“You lis­ten to the views of so­called ex­perts and they’re peo­ple who’ve been out of the game so long they don’t even know what’s hap­pen­ing on a daily ba­sis.

“We’ve got some re­ally, re­ally good peo­ple so when peo­ple start say­ing it’s rot­ten or any of this other stuff, they lose a lot of cred­i­bil­ity in my eyes. How can they speak with such au­thor­ity about some­thing they clearly don’t un­der­stand?

“I can only as­sume they’ve been asked a ques­tion, not known the an­swer and re­verted to old stereo­types. Peo­ple can lis­ten if they want but it doesn’t af­fect us. We know the truth. ”

QPR’s hard-to-shake rep­u­ta­tion stemmed from chair­man Tony Fer­nan­des throw­ing good money af­ter bad in a mis­guided at­tempt to buy in­stant suc­cess. The net re­sult was two rel­e­ga­tions from the top flight and a plethora of un­savoury head­lines.

Lessons have clearly been learned. Gone are fad­ing stars like Shaun Wright-Phillips and Chris Samba. In are lower league men on the rise in Conor Wash­ing­ton and Nasser El Khay­ati.

Even man­ager Jimmy Floyd-Has­sel-baink, a for­mer Premier League golden boot win­ner, was plucked from Bur­ton Al­bion in De­cem­ber.

It has taken a long time for this slimmed down, stripped back QPR to ad­just but, af­ter a painful seven-game wait for vic­tory un­der Has­sel­baink and the sale of top scorer Char­lie Austin to Southamp­ton in Jan­uary, the Hoops, pre-week­end, boasted three wins from their last four games.

Struc­ture

“Jimmy’s very de­mand­ing,” said On­uoha. “That’s his big­gest char­ac­ter­is­tic. We’re work­ing a lot harder now. That’s not to say we weren’t be­fore, but it’s a com- pletely dif­fer­ent level. It isn’t just phys­i­cal ei­ther – it’s men­tal and psy­cho­log­i­cal in terms of learn­ing what he ex­pects from us.

“Most peo­ple watch­ing us can see that the tempo has gone up. And the num­bers don’t lie – if you look at the stats af­ter the game, we’re cov­er­ing a lot of ground. We’re work­ing to a struc­ture and an idea.

“At times this year, it hasn’t been that way. Now, you go into games feel­ing that you can com- pete against any­one. And not be­cause you’ve got bet­ter play­ers. Be­cause of the way you’re set up and the fact ev­ery­one knows their job the mo­ment they step onto the field. ”

If de­fender On­uoha is cur­rently try­ing to undo the dam­age wrought by bad in­vest­ment, he has also wit­nessed the joy – al­beit at a per­sonal cost – that a mega-backer can bring.

A child­hood Manch­ester City fan who was on the club’s books from the age of ten, he made his

de­but in 2004 and, by 2009, had played al­most 100 Premier League games. And while the ar­rival of Sheikh Man­sour’s bil­lions would ul­ti­mately see him shoved aside by a suc­ces­sion of su­per­stars, On­uoha isn’t bit­ter about the club’s stel­lar as­cent leav­ing him in the dust.

“The club did change,” says the 20-cap Eng­land Un­der-21 star, who joined Rangers in 2012 af­ter a year on loan at Sun­der­land. “Ev­ery so of­ten, I speak to a mem­ber of staff who misses the old days and I do, too. Com­ing through, play­ing along­side Richard Dunne and Syl­vain Dis­tin at the peak of their ca­reers. They were my first and se­cond sea­sons as a pro and, thanks to them, it was the eas­i­est time I’ve ever had on a pitch.

“The old days were great but they were also about seven tro­phies ago. And those tro­phies will be in the cab­i­net a lot longer than my name would ever have been on a locker. It’s the price of suc­cess.

“I mean, it was only 1998 when the club was in Divi­sion Two. I did an in­ter­view re­cently and some­body asked me about my mem­o­ries of the Manch­ester derby when I was grow­ing up. I told them I couldn’t re­mem­ber many be­cause United were usu­ally a divi­sion above!

“Those sup­port­ers were very loyal be­cause they weren’t ever sur­rounded by glory. For the peo­ple who stayed with us when we were rub­bish to see a Premier League ti­tle and Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter­fi­nals – I can’t be­grudge them that. I just hope all the younger fans en­joy what they’re see­ing now be­cause it wasn’t al­ways like that. ”

Speedy

Nor does On­uoha re­gret a lost ca­reer in ath­let­ics. At 14, he clocked 11. 09 sec­onds for the 100m and was also amongst the UK’s finest ju­niors in the 200m, long jump and triple jump.

“It wasn’t a con­scious de­ci­sion to choose one over the other,” he ex­plains. “I used to do the ath­let­ics in the sum­mer, then the foot­ball in the win­ter.

“But when I was 15-16, one of the coaches at City said ‘Right, pre-sea­son starts in July’ and that kind of brought the ath­let­ics to a nat­u­ral halt.

“Could I have made it? Who knows. I was in the top ten in the coun­try for the sprints. Some of the peo­ple I knew have gone on to have very good ca­reers. Craig Pick­er­ing – who I still speak to now – was a di­rect ri­val when we were 15-16. He’s been to World and Euro­pean cham­pi­onships.

“But I wouldn’t change it for the ca­reer I’ve had. Foot­ball was al­ways what I en­joyed most and it has given me a great life.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

GOOD NIGHT: Ne­dum On­uoha cel­e­brates scor­ing QPR’s last­gasp win­ner at Read­ing in De­cem­ber with team-mate Leroy Fer, now on loan at Swansea. In­set, top right: Jimmy Floyd Has­sel­baink GONE: De­fender Chris Samba failed to im­press at QPR

NEW HOPE: Striker Conor Wash­ing­ton

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.