Oguchi Onyewu has been a stand-out of the USA side for years. The imposing centre-back blossomed on the American college circuit before moving to Europe aged 19, initially joining French outfit Metz in 2002 before switching to Standard Liege two years later.
After being named foreign player of the year in his first season in Belgium, winning back-to-back Jupiler League titles with Les Rouches, and starring for USA en route to their admirable runners-up finish at the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2009, the man affectionately nicknamed ‘Gooch’ earned a dream transfer to Serie A giants AC Milan. Unfortunately, he was swiftly struck down with a knee injury that has dogged his Rossoneri career ever since.
After a somewhat disappointing 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Onyewu sealed a loan move to Dutch champions FC Twente in January and is in line for a potential treble in the Eredivisie, KNVB Beker and UEFA Europa League. With a tough run-in, starting with a trip to Villarreal tonight, 2011 has the potential to be big year for the hulking defender. FIFA.com caught up with the 28-year-old to discuss his recovery from injury, desire to make it at Milan and Twente’s chances of glory domestically and in Europe.
FIFA.com: Oguchi, having had such an injury-plagued couple of years, how does it feel to be fit and getting regular football again? Do you feel like you’re rediscovering your rhythm?
Oguchi Onyewu: For me, the main reason I play the sport is to play all the time, and for the last year that hasn’t been the case. Right now I’m just happy to be getting that again and at the moment I’m feeling good. I think after such an injury, and once you’ve gone through the healing process to recover from it, it takes a while to get the rhythm back that you had prior to it. I feel right now that, if I’m not back yet, I’m on the path to being back where I was before I got injured.
The injury struck after what had been a fantastic spell in your career. How was that for you?
At that period I was on top of the world in terms of my career and my aspirations as an athlete. To win the Belgian league two years consecutively and get to the final of the Confederations Cup, narrowly losing to Brazil, and then get a dream move to Milan [would have been] great for any player, but particularly for an American one. It was a great point for me. Unfortunately that experience was cut short with the injury, and it’s my responsibility now to get back to where I was.
Are you hopeful of recapturing your place at Milan at the end of this loan spell with Twente?
I would love to, but I know that’s not all in my hands. There are a lot of different factors involved in that decision-making - myself, the club, the coaching staff - so it’s certainly not just down to me.
How have you found Twente and the Eredivisie in the couple of months you’ve spent there so far?
It’s a very competitive team and I think we’ve proved that in the competitions we’ve taken part in. We’re top of the table, in the final of the Dutch Cup and we’re preparing to play Villarreal in the quarter-finals of the Europa League, so all in all the second half of the season has been very productive for us.
You’ve joined the club at a great time, with a possible treble on the cards. How confident are you feeling at succeeding in each competition?
When I signed for the club I was asked what my aspirations were here, and I said I wanted to win everything we were involved in. I think the reporter laughed to himself a bit at the response, but I meant every word. I feel this team is capable of winning everything, and I think we are in a great position to do so in the league and the Dutch Cup. The Europa League is very difficult but in football any team can win, it’s not necessarily the better team, you play for 90 minutes and you just see what happens. I think right now we have all the confidence with us and we just need to use that to propel us to the end of the season.
Twente eliminated arguably two of the favourites for the Europa League in Rubin Kazan and Zenit. That must give you a boost?
I don’t really like it when people say one team is a favourite and one team isn’t. We’re all part of the same tournament and we all have the right to see how far you can go. In respect to that I feel we’ve proved our worth as much as any of the others, and I don’t feel there’s really a favourite. All the teams remaining are very good sides and they all have a great chance of winning.
Having got the 2-0 win over PSV last weekend to climb to the top of the Eredivisie, you must be confident in the race for the title?
It’s definitely heartening to be back in the number one spot, but I don’t think we have any space for error. Just as easily as we took the spot this week, we know PSV will be looking to recapture it as soon as possible, so we have to be on top of our game and not let ourselves down. We have to realise that from now every match is a championship game.