In breaking his own news that he was soon to be stateside bound, Nedum Onuoha was asked to describe his new home in Utah and new club in Real Salt Lake.
“It kind of reminds me of Manchester,” he said Thursday on BBC Radio Manchester, “but with mountains.”
Lofty, lofty praise.
Before the MLS roster freeze deadline Friday, RSL added a veteran presence to its young roster in signing the Manchester-raised center back who turns 32 in November. Onuoha, like RSL attacking midfielder Albert Rusnák came up in the Manchester City academy, spent six years with City, one season with Sunderland, but spent the last six-and-a-half years with Queens Park Rangers as a captain.
The club was in the English Premier League and in the Premier League Championship division during his time there where he made 210 appearances. During his appearance on the BBC network Thursday, Onuoha said he’d entertained offers from Championship clubs and spoke with one EPL manager about coming in as a free agent signing.
“It didn’t quite feel right,” the 6-foot-2 defender said. “I just thought maybe this is the moment and the opportunity.”
For RSL, it’s an opportunity to add some established leadership to its ongoing youth movement. The RSL back line has been without starter Marcelo Silva, who has missed the last five matches with an ankle injury. Onuoha said in his hour-long appearance on the BBC that he relished being around star players as a young defender during his stops in England and hopes to be that veteran voice now at RSL.
“I think that’s big thing now,” he said. “Football is going towards the younger player, but the fact is I think you need seniors to try and help them and show them you can be a good professional. It’s not necessarily all just about the money. It’s about being a good person, doing things the right way and being a good professional.”
RSL general manager Craig Waibel told The Salt Lake Tribune that the club will never stop looking for two positions worldwide: striker and center back. Yes, RSL was targeting a center forward in the summer transfer window, but couldn’t come to terms with one before the window came to a close. Onuoha comes in as an out-of-contract player, which makes him immediately eligible for RSL’s stretch run of the 2018 season.
“You have to be prepared when good players come along in good positions,” Waibel said. “You have to be willing to move on that, and then figure out what the next move is. Sometimes the dominos don’t fall exactly the way you want them to, but in this case, we focused on a striker the entire window, couldn’t close. We had to shift focus. All of a sudden a good center back comes up that just happens to be a position of need in this exact moment.”
Waibel said RSL has had its sights set on Onuoha for a while. Asked if this move had any correlation with Silva’s lingering injury, RSL’s GM said there is none.
“This isn’t a statement anymore than it is the belief that when a good player comes along and you have the ability to get him, you get him and figure it out as you go,” Waibel said.
According to a report from MLSSoccer.com Thursday, Onuoha’s deal at RSL is guaranteed through 2019 with a club option for 2020. RSL completed the signing without having to use Targeted Allocation Money, which only adds to the shrewdness of the move. With Silva sidelined, RSL has had Justen Glad and Nick Besler at center back, and the duo has played well helping RSL shoot up to fourth place in the West.
Onuoha said such a monumental career shift will serve him well. A fresh start somewhere completely new is invigorating to him and his family.
“I’ve not really felt this excited about football for a long time,” he said.