Mens Team

Football v athletics: Nedum Onuoha explains career decision

Football v athletics: Nedum Onuoha explains career decision
Football was just one of several strings to the young Nedum Onuoha’s bow.

The former Manchester City defender, who turns 34 today, has recently retired after a 16-year playing career, but he could have quite easily gone down another sporting path.

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His talents are well documented.

He aced his A-Levels in Maths, Business Studies and IT and Stuart Pearce once joked he spent his spare time “splitting the atom”, but whilst he certainly had the capabilities to continue his education, it was his athletic ability which nearly stole him away from football.

As a child, Onuoha focused on football in the winter and track and field in the summer and his 100m time of 10.9 seconds meant pursuing an athletics career wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility.

That ended when he signed his scholarship with City at the age of 16 and a year later he had made his first team debut, though Onuoha admits he entered the professional ranks naively thinking he still had time to choose between the two sports.

“I kind of thought I would get to 18 and make the decision,” Onuoha tells “But it kind of just happened.

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“When City were handing contracts out to come in full-time, I signed but I didn’t know the extent of how full-time, full-time was. It was literally all your time.

“I went from seasons which ran from August or September through to April, to playing from July through to May or June.

“You only really had one month away from the game. I didn’t have the time for athletics training or to compete in the summer and I wasn’t really allowed to because I was playing football full-time as my actual job.

“The plan was to carry on with the two, but it was very unlikely that it would have been possible.

“The decision just happened, but in the same breath, I don’t necessarily regret it because I’ve had a good career and I’ve been able to help get myself ready for the rest of my life.”

That such a significant decision could be left to circumstance may seem surprising, but for Onuoha it was perfectly normal.

Raised in a household where education was of the utmost importance, football was a hobby for the youngster to enjoy rather than a career goal.

Indeed, despite joining City’s Academy at the age of 10, Onuoha says playing professionally was never a childhood dream because he remained so focused on his studies.

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“The way my academy time was leading up to the first team, all these things were a privilege not an expectation,” he explains.

“I was playing football as a hobby and doing athletics as a hobby. The only thing I was doing properly was school.

“Even when I signed full-time, I was doing three A-Levels and still going to college. I still felt like if I didn’t do that, I couldn’t play football.

“Whereas some people had the dream from the age of 10 to go and play [football], I did want to do it, but I didn’t see it as a dream as such because it was almost conditional.

“There was never a point where I could look ahead and see myself in the first team because I had another five years of school.

“The thought of turning pro was something I hoped for but essentially for the previous seven years up to that point all I was doing was just being lucky enough to play football with my friends.

“It wasn’t thought about to that level. Overall, I think that helped.”

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