Academy graduate and lifelong Blue Nedum Onuoha recalls the characters from the dressing room from a decade ago…
The Class of 2008/09…
The Club had just been taken over and we had Mark Hughes as our manager. It was an exciting and memorable time to be a City player and I made 33 appearances that season – the most I made during my seven years in the first team. It was a time of transition and change as the Club moved into a different stratosphere of resources. These are some of the character types I shared the dressing room with. Happy days!
Leader: Richard Dunne
There were two in that Vincent Kompany had just arrived and was a natural leader, but without question Richard Dunne was the leader of that team that season. He played 31 times and was the skipper and Richard, Sylvain Distin and Shaun Wright-Phillips were the players who made my passage into the senior team as smooth as it could possibly be – all three were good guys, at the peak of their powers and good professionals.
Dunney could be vocal, but that wasn’t really his style. He’d never go around ranting and raving in the dressing room, but he was a strong character who could always be relied upon come game day. If I was on the bench and Dunney was playing, he would always see the game through, no matter what. If he broke his leg, it would have to be both legs broken before he’d come off, and he always put his body on the line for the Club and for his team-mates. He always led by example
The hard men: Vincent Kompany/Nigel de Jong
I would say Nigel or Vincent for definite. Vinnie was a midfielder at the time, but he had a bad toe injury and could play the ball as well as he wanted, so when he went back into defence, aggression became one of his attributes. Both Nigel and Vinnie would not be disrespected by anyone and it didn’t matter what your reputation was, or, in training, even if you were a team-mate in training! They were the same with each other, too. They’d take you out in a heartbeat if it meant winning the ball! Though this was a few years later, I recall we were playing a friendly against Inter Milan and Vinnie had tackled Samuel Eto’o hard a few times. He was African football’s pin-up boy at the time and at his peak, so he complained to Kolo and Yaya Toure and asked them to ask Vinnie to tone it down – his response was: “I don’t care who he is. Every time he moans, I’ll kick him again and then again.” And he did!
Quiet man: Darius Vassell
Darius is a good friend of mine and is a very cool, funny and enjoyable person to be around – but he doesn’t open up that easily. He prefers to sit on the edge of things instead of diving straight in, so depending on your perception of those traits, he might seem a hard person to figure out and that’s why I’ve listed him here as the squad’s quiet man – but invest time in him and let him come out of himself and he’s a terrific guy.
The DJ: Shaun Wright-Phillips
Initially, there was a lot of pressure put on my shoulders to provide the music, particularly for our UEFA Cup run to the quarter-finals. But Shaun Wright-Phillips was the real music man. He had given me some really expensive turntables when I was in the Academy – I didn’t know their value at the time – but if I chose something terrible, he would take over. He was the guy. He was the DJ.
The thinker: Glauber Berti
Glauber was a top professional and somebody who just quietly got on with everything. He always trained well and was always ready to play, even though he seemed to always be an unused sub. He got on with his fellow Brazilians, but he wasn’t close. Glauber was more interested in learning the culture, the language and how the game was played in England, but this wasn’t really recognised. He was a decent player and his attitude was spot on, because he could have easily lost his patience. Then, on the final day, he came on for maybe ten minutes and received a hero’s welcome – the fans certainly got it and he deserved that moment. A very good guy.
Misunderstood: Craig Bellamy
Craig Bellamy was one of the most misunderstood players I shared a dressing room with. Then again, there was plenty of times when he was perfectly understood. At his core, he just wanted the best for you and for the team. He was very professional, but he could say some things that came out in a way that was – shall we say – a tad blunt. There were no half-measures with Bellers – but I kind of got along with him. It was just that delivery of his thoughts that sometimes raised an eyebrow or two! He’s not a bad guy and probably the most misunderstood in our squad at the time.
Local hero: Stephen Ireland
In a year the Club were taken over and stellar talents were either signed or linked with City, it was Stephen Ireland who upped his game and ended up as our Player of the Year. He was fantastic for us that season – Superman indeed - he was the unexpected one and he understood what it meant to be a Manchester City player who turned everything around and had the best year of his career.