U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu, a 31-year-old Washington native with two World Cups behind him, discusses his move to Queens Park Rangers this fall, the subsequent lack of playing time, his future in England and with the U.S. national team, the World Cup in Brazil, and finishing his college degree after leaving school for Europe a dozen years ago.
How is life in London?
“London is a great city. It’s busy all the time. The only downside is the traffic. I’m feeling good here. The training ground is near Heathrow; I’m living in the Fulham-Chelsea area.”
How many clubs did you speak with before heading to QPR?
“There were clubs in Germany and France. There was a rumor about Valencia, but I don’t know if that was accurate. It didn’t seem logical and came out of nowhere. It might’ve been real but I didn’t investigate it.
“With QPR, I had a friend associated with the club. They seemed keen to have me. Their only hold-up was their concern about my health. They had heard I was injured. I told them, ‘I am not injured.’ They said, ‘We know you had surgery on your knee this summer.’ I said, ‘No, I had a procedure to see if there was anything wrong.’ There wasn’t. So QPR wanted to see me for a few weeks in training and then made a decision from there.”
Where were you between cutting ties with Sporting Lisbon and training with QPR?
“I was training with Metz in France, my first pro club. They had my back and were very supportive. It wasn’t anything but training with the first team and keeping my fitness.”
You signed a short-term contract with QPR but have not played in a league match. How long is your deal and will they extend it?
“Just until the end of January. There can be an extension, but my main objective this season is to put myself in a position where I can compete to travel to the World Cup with the U.S. team. I feel as though, physically, there is nothing that would prevent me from that. It’s a matter of finding a situation where I can find the minutes I need. Hopefully, the situation can turn in my favor in the coming weeks and I will have the opportunity to prove my worth to this team. That’s what I am hoping, and then to maintain it through the end of the season.”
Do you think you’ll stay at QPR?
“It’s not just their decision, but my decision as well. If I am in the same position five weeks from now, I don’t think it’s going to help me. Perhaps I will need to talk to them about the direction we want to go in. It’s premature to talk about it now, especially with so many games coming up. The possibility of playing is there. I am being patient. I am training well. I played 90 minutes Tuesday in a friendly. I am a patient man with limits.”
Why don’t you think you have gotten into a match?
“At the moment, we have guys doing a fantastic job. There hasn’t been any reason to change. On the other side of the spectrum, you have players working day in and day out proving they can do just as well or better. That is the nature of the game — just to be ready.”
[Queens Park Rangers is second in the Championship with 11 victories, two defeats and six draws — level with Burnley on points but second on goal difference. QPR has conceded just 10 goals.]
Have you spoken with Juergen Klinsmann or anyone else from the U.S. coaching staff lately?
“No. They know my situation. They are following me. Like Juergen told me, I just have to find a place where I am going to get games. Once that happens, I’m sure we’ll talk. Until then, I don’t want say anything senseless. Right now, my focus is to find the right situation and let clubs know there’s nothing physically wrong with me. I am more motivated than any previous season. For whatever reason, I don’t know. I have never been so motivated to prove non-believers wrong and to open a lot of eyes. That is my immediate objective. Long term, it’s a little different.”
I understand you are taking classes …
“I left Clemson after two years to go pro. About a year ago, I decided to start back up. I contacted Clemson about things I could do. I am working toward a degree in Language and International Trade with French. The course I just finished is Managerial Accounting, which I do not recommend for anyone! It is a hard one. And it’s even harder learning it on your own away from a classroom. I passed, but I am glad I can close the book on that one.
“With the major, all I do online is take the tests. I have the actual textbook as if I were at Clemson every day. At the beginning of the semester, the professor outlines the work and syllabus and timeline. I have to take the exams at a certain time or reschedule them. Fortunately, I have had only one exam that I had to reschedule because of a game. Otherwise, I finish training, take a shower, get home as fast as I can so I can do my work. It takes a lot of discipline and patience. I have to excel physically and then get home and excel mentally. I have to think about the future. Unfortunately, soccer careers don’t last forever.”
You have spoken French since your first season in Europe, correct?
“Right. And I’ve been able to learn Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. I’ve been in Europe so long, I feel European. I actually have a Belgian passport. I became a man here in Europe. Obviously, I am American, but I speak all of these languages. I think about what path I am meant to take next. Before I moved to Europe, I thought I was one of those people who could never learn a language. I was terrible in Spanish in high school. I’ve found my niche and I have to go with it.”
How far are you from earning a degree?
“A year ago, I had about three semesters left. If I went to school full-time now, I would have about one year. I don’t have the ability to go full-time, and not all classes are offered online. And then I have to be careful not to overdo it. It’s about time management and knowing your limits. I decided to take the next semester off. I want the next six months to be strictly, selfishly football. After that, I will start back up again.”
Ultimately, when your soccer career ends, what would you like to do?
“Probably international business. A lot of athletes tend to become agents or coaches, something closely related to the sport. I love the sport, I love soccer, but I have aspirations to do other things. Perhaps I will use soccer to do other things. I have a lot of business ideas I want to present in the future. I have my non-profit as well. There are a lot of projects I want to bring to reality.”