Nedum Onuoha has thought about the end of his career since he was a 25-year-old defender at Queens Park Rangers in England. He was surrounded by players in the later stages of their careers, and he paid attention to the types of conversations that came up. Managing money, future endeavors.
So in a way, Onuoha has been mentally preparing for his retirement from professional soccer for the better part of eight years.
“All that stuff stuck with me because it was just a reminder that you never know how long your career is going to last for, and it’s great that you do the job right now,” Onuoha said. “But who knows what’s next to come?”
The day to think of what’s next has finally arrived.
Onuoha says he will play his last professional game Sunday when Real Salt Lake faces Sporting Kansas City in the last game of the 2020 Major League Soccer season. He joined RSL in September 2018 and will finish with 49 games played in both the regular season and playoffs.
Onuoha first announced his retirement on his podcast, “Kickback with Nedum.” Players from across the organization posted messages of gratitude and adulation for the defender throughout Friday.
Several RSL players lauded Onuoha’s impact on and off the field in videoconferences with media, including Albert Rusnák, who said the defender was always willing to help players improve.
“People like him don’t come around often,” Rusnák said. “I’m proud I could have played with him for a couple of years. I wish him a good retirement.”
RSL VS. SPORTING KANSAS CITY
At Rio Tinto Stadium
When • Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
TV • KMYU
Coach Freddy Juarez said Onuoha has made an impact all across the organization, but particularly on himself as a young coach. He said he used Onuoha’s vast soccer experience to help him improve as a coach.
“He was always a person that I would go to,” Juarez said. “I felt like I wasn’t hesitant to ask some difficult questions and him give me some answers that he was always honest about for me. I didn’t hesitate to ask him things that I could improve on or what he saw [that] was potentially good or not good enough so I could be able to try to get the club going in the right direction.”
Onuoha made as much if not more impact off the field than he did on it. He quickly became a leader in the RSL locker room and a trusted veteran younger players went to for advice. He also pitched in financially when the organization laid off dozens of workers due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“He’s not just a great soccer player, but he’s a great person,” general manager Elliot Fall said on ESPN700. “He’s the kind of guy you want to be around. He’s the kind of guy you want to learn from.”
Onuoha said his plan was always to retire at the end of this season. As far as what comes after, he plans to enjoy more time with his family and looks forward to making his own schedule.
Career-wise, though — that’s up in the air for Onuoha. He enjoyed hosting the podcast, and said a career in some type of media is not completely of the question.
But retirement doesn’t scare Onuoha like it does so many other athletes because the game hasn’t never really been tied to his identity as a person.
“I am Nedum. That’s what you get away from the field,” Onuoha said. “Football has been great and I’ve loved it. But I’ve never felt I needed to carry it around with me for when I wasn’t at the training ground or on the field.”