Former Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers defender Nedum Onuoha has revealed that he turned down the chance to play for Nigeria at international level on two occasions during his career.
The 35-year-old was born in Nigeria before moving to Manchester at the age of five, and he went on to represent England at Under-20 and Under-21 level, making a total of 23 appearances.
During his 16-year playing career, Onuoha reveals in his autobiography ‘Kicking Back’ that he rejected the chance to represent the Nigerian national team twice, firstly in 2008 before the Africa Cup of Nations and again four years later.
Onuoha claims that he received criticism from Nigerians for not accepting an international call-up, and explains why he opted to represent England.
“I’ve seen so many people [represent the national team]. For me, every time I watch Nigeria it just feels a certain way. It’s a shame because I was being criticised by Nigerians for saying that I was begging to play for England but I never was because I am who I am. But I was playing in England in the Premier League.
“It’s a big thing to represent England whilst you’re in England, playing in the Premier League. It was a shame that I didn’t manage to do it but then I still played lots of games domestically and I think looking back maybe I would have perceived certain things differently.”
Onuoha felt that accepting an international call-up from Nigeria would affect his position at club level with Man City – where he was a peripheral figure under Roberto Mancini at the time he received his second call-up – and the fact that the AFCON tournament was viewed in a negative light by the English game at the time was also a factor in his decision to concentrate on club football.
“In the lead up to the AFCON championships, you could hear how people were speaking ill of it, the timing of it, not taking it seriously and the like, and that frustrated me so I was continually pushing back, pushing back against it and initially when I was [at Man City] under Mancini, I said to Berti Vogts, the then Nigeria manager, that I couldn’t go because I wasn’t comfortable in my club position.
“[At the time, I felt] that you would fall down the pecking order if you decided to go and play for your national team. This would never be the case if you were playing for England or if you were playing for another European nation.”
Reflecting on his career, Onuoha admits that he partly regrets not wearing the Super Eagles jersey, adding: “I had been drinking the Kool-Aid and I fell into that mindset, I think I missed that because if in a late part of my career that option would have ever come, I would have gone.
“If a club wants to punish you for representing your country, I think that’s not a problem for you that’s a problem for them, that’s their situation, their perception of other countries because at the end of the day, you’re not really picking where you are from, so why should you be criticised because of it?
“In some ways, it was a bit of a regret but then in the same breath [because] I didn’t have those experiences then I wouldn’t be perceiving things the way that I do today. So I do appreciate that and I would have loved to have worn the shirt but I’m just going to have to support from a distance now.”
After Nigeria reached the quarter-finals of the 2008 AFCON tournament and then finished third in 2010, they then failed to qualify in 2012 before winning the competition a year later in South Africa, which to this day is their last success on the continent.
Onuoha, meanwhile, represented England at youth level between 2005 and 2009, and in the latter year, he helped the Young Lions reach the European Championship final, where they were beaten 4-0 by a talented Germany side which included Manuel Neuer, Mesut Ozil, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Sami Khedira.