NEDUM Onuoha says a year on loan at Sunderland has taught him the art of playing the underdog.
The 24-year-old defender has just completed a season-long loan at the Stadium of Light from Manchester City. He does not know if he will be back, although the indications are that City will have to significantly lower their asking price for that to happen.
If his Black Cats career is indeed over, Onuoha can at least be satisfied he is a much improved player for it.
“I have learned my trade a lot more this year,” he said. “I have played more games in the first team and there has been a lot of determination needed. At certain games at City you were expected to win games, sometimes here you have to play the underdog. There is a way you have to play that.
“I have improved as a player and the players around me have improved as well. You would like to think Sunderland as a club and the team as a whole have appreciated that.”
Onuoha’s versatility has been tested this season, often playing full-back one game, centre-back the next, and occasionally as an emergency striker at the desperation stages of matches. Having been moved from pillar to
post at Eastlands, it is not something which worries the Nigerian-born defender.
“I have enjoyed switching positions,” he said. “It means different things in different games. It is almost a compliment from the manager that he thinks he can play me in all of these positions. I have enjoyed it at right-back or as the last line of defence.”
But Onuoha conceded he was frustrated by a campaign which tailed off dramatically after January’s sale of Darren Bent to Aston Villa. The main objective of finishing in the top half was achieved, but Sunderland’s pre-Christmas form raised expectations which could not be met.
“From my point of view, this season has been a disappointment,” he said. “We were in a very good position in the first half of the season, in the second half things did not go so well. But we are professional players and we are supposed to get results.
“We have perhaps not performed as we should have done in the second half of the season. That’s the thing in the Premier League. One minute you are very good, the next you are right down there.
“I remember at the start of the season, West Brom were fourth and going for Europe, before you knew it they were in the bottom three, fighting for their lives and losing their manager.”
One department of the club where standards have remained consistently high is the support, however.
“The fans have been fantastic to me personally and for the squad as well,” he said. “They have always supported us, through the good results and the bad results.
“Even at the end of the last home game (against Wolverhampton Wanderers), when we were 3-1 down, the majority of them stayed. The ones that left have been there, probably, through the entire season anyway. It makes a big difference if you know you can get that every other week.”
Sunderland are hard at work trying to bring new blood to the club. Targets Keiren Westwood, David Vaughan, Sebastian Larsson and Jay Bothroyd are out of contract, but chairman Niall Quinn warned fans to brace themselves for a long wait before any arrivals.
“I would say it would be at least August until we sign a player,” he said. “It will be July or August before things really get running.
“In the meantime we’ll put the prep work in, but there’s going to be a long summer ahead of us.”
Meanwhile, Sunderland legend Kevin Phillips has been released by relegated Birmingham City. He scored 134 goals in 239 appearances for the Black Cats.