Newcastle takeover: Nedum Onuoha recalls the uncertain times at Manchester City

The defender recalls how players reacted when City was bought by Abu Dhabi United Group: 'You are at the centre of it but outside it at the same time'

Former Manchester City defender Nedum Onuoha has revealed how the major takeover of a football club and a change of manager can be a surreal time for the players.

Onuoha joined City before his 10th birthday and rose through the ranks to make his first team debut at the age of 17 before going on to make 117 appearances for the club.

He experienced two takeovers at the Etihad, the second one by the Sheikh Mansour-led Abu Dhabi United Group, who have since overseen an unprecedented haul of silverware including five Premier League titles.

Having been a regular starter under manager Mark Hughes, Onuoha lost his place when Roberto Mancini was brought in to manage City and eventually moved to Sunderland on loan and then Queens Park Rangers, where he amassed 207 starts.

The 34-year-old, now retired after a stint in MLS with Salt Lake City in the United States, remembers the turmoil surrounding the 2008 takeover.

He believes there will be similar stresses and strains in the current Newcastle dressing room after the club was acquired by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben Brothers, who have already removed Steve Bruce as boss.

“Players are often the last to know what is happening,” he recalled. “Basically during the takeover we were watching television sports news and reading newspapers like everyone else. It is a surreal, almost out of body, experience sitting in your living room watching it unfold. You are at the centre of it but outside it at the same time.

“You were left waiting for someone from the press department to update you but even then they might not have had all the facts. Players are rarely consulted about strategic decisions at a club.

“There will be a lot of different emotions in that Newcastle camp. Some will be excited, some might be worried for their future but all of them will be anxious to know who the manager will be in the long term.

“That’s the biggest thing because all managers view the game and players differently. At City seven or eight of us had been playing regularly for Mark Hughes, but were never really in Mancini’s plans. Players know well that the game isn’t a level playing field. Managers and coaches always have their own ideas, some of them pre-conceived.

“Those young players who have come through the academy at Newcastle and have known nothing else might be more nervous of the future than those who are used to the ups and downs and moves that come with the game.”

Onuoha, a City fan, believes that Newcastle’s new owners have the advantage of learning from how the current English champions went about building a hugely successful future but the disadvantage of starting from a lower base.

And he warned that while the overwhelming priority is staying in the Premier League this season, they cannot ignore everything else that goes into the making of a top club.

“Newcastle are fortunate that they can look at the model and the way City did things and take the best bits,” he said. “They are not under pressure to bring instant success because everyone knows it takes three years at least for that to happen. But they are under pressure to survive this season because they’ve had such a bad start.

“We had the basis of a very good team already when Abu Dhabi came in and they had a solid plan to build on what was there. City signed the right people at the right time and that was vital. They knew what they needed. Robinho’s arrival was probably the outlier but in the first transfer windows they brought in proven talent like Nigel De Jong, Craig Bellamy and Wayne Bridge.

Newcastle fans welcome takeover

“At the same time a huge amount of investment went into the infrastructure and at a rapid rate. Lads who went away on international duty came back ten days later to find a complete upgrade of the training ground and new staff offices were built quickly. They invested heavily in all areas of the club.

“It was amazing and as a fan I found it exciting after a previous takeover that didn’t work. Unfortunately for me as a player it didn’t work out once Mark Hughes had gone.”

It did, however, pan out for the midfielder De Jong, who came to City from Hamburg and went on to lift the FA Cup and Premier League title.

The World Cup finalist, who racked up 81 caps for the Netherlands, could have had his pick of clubs at the time, including Real Madrid, but instead chose City.

“As a player coming in just after a takeover it was about the dream that was sold to me,” he said.

“The club convinced me about their ambition, the package and also the authenticity of what they were trying to achieve. Ultimately that’s what players are looking for and that’s what clubs have to have in place.

“The top players these days can more or less go where they want to and whilst the salary is important it is never just about that. City created a culture, a zeitgeist that has stood them in good stead.”

Updated: October 23rd 2021, 3:32 AM
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