MALAGA, Spain (Reuters) - Oguchi Onyewu has had more than his fair share of bad luck with injuries and disruptive changes to coaching staff but the peripatetic American feels a loan move to Malaga has given him the perfect chance to get his career back on track.
The 30-year-old defender’s stint at AC Milan, whom Malaga host in Champions League Group C on Wednesday, was at first wrecked by a serious knee injury.
Then when coach Massimiliano Allegri took charge, Onyewu found himself surplus to requirements despite signing a one-year contract extension which would have seen him play for free.
After a loan move to Dutch side Twente Enschede, he signed for Sporting of Portugal in June last year before he was sidelined by another knee problem and it again became clear he was not part of the club’s plans.
Malaga came calling and Onyewu, who has also played in France, Belgium and England, decided Spain’s southern coast was the right place to be despite the Qatar-owned club’s apparent institutional instability.
“If my services are not wanted and appreciated in one place I’m going to look where they are,” Onyewu said in an interview with Reuters in the stands of Malaga’s sun-drenched Rosaleda stadium on Tuesday.
“I was excited to have this challenge and opportunity in a new country and a new team,” added the Washington D.C.-born player, whose parents are Nigerian.
“I find myself in a good place back with a top team that’s playing Champions League.
“I’m very happy with the way my path has propelled me to this point right now.”
Onyewu, who says he is open to making the move to Malaga permanent, has yet to make his debut for his new team and faces stiff competition for a place in central defence from established pair Martin Demichelis and Weligton.
Now that he is back to full fitness, he says he is focusing on working hard to win over Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini.
“I consider myself an established centre back as well,” he told Reuters as he adjusted the back-to-front baseball cap covering his close-cropped hair.
“I’ve played in a variety of countries, I have a fair number of national team caps and World Cups under my belt as well.
“I feel as though my opportunity is just around the corner and when it comes up it’s for me to take or let it go.
“Fortunately my health at this moment is not in question. It’s good to say because I’ve had a couple of unlucky runs of injuries so I’m happy to feel and to say that I’m healthy right now.”
Onyewu was left out of Juergen Klinsmann’s latest U.S. squad but is confident of adding to his 66 caps and six goals once he has made his mark in La Liga.
“Right now I’m not in the mix and rightfully so,” he said.
“I think you need to take things in their proper order and my main focus is Malaga and concentrating here on getting the playing time I’m working for.
“Once that all comes to realisation everything else should fall into place.
“He (Klinsmann) expressed his delight in terms of me putting myself in a good position despite everything that went down in Lisbon.
“I’m not too worried about it but first things first. I have to take care of business here.”
First up on Wednesday are his former club Milan, who are in something of a downward spiral after selling a host of top players in the close season.
Onyewu said he harbours no ill feeling towards the Italians but will not be doing his former team mates any favours.
“As much as I am looking forward to seeing some of the old faces I used to play with I’m also looking forward to getting the three points against them,” he said.
“I’m going to laugh with them after the game but during those 90 minutes they are my enemies as much as anybody else.”
After what he called “a period of transition”, Milan are sure to put their troubles behind them and return to winning ways, he said.
“It’s going to be very difficult for any team to change a lump sum of players all at one time,” he remarked of the seven-times European champions.
“They let a lot of important players, not just for the team but for the club, leave. Legends for the club.
“Right now they have a younger group and they’re looking to rebuild that legacy. Obviously it’s going to take some time and lot of commitment from the players.”
Malaga’s preparations for the season were disrupted by speculation - that initially went unanswered - that owner Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nassar Al Thani was planning to sell up after only two years.
The internal problems did not seem to affect the players too seriously, despite delays in wage payments, and they are third in La Liga and top of their Champions League group after two matches on their debut in Europe’s elite club competition.
“Right now to me being inside, it feels and it seems as though the club is completely stable,” Onyewu said.
“There hasn’t been any indication of the financial issues that were a question prior to my arrival.
“You never know what happens in the future but at the moment it hasn’t affected me and it hasn’t been an issue. Hopefully that will continue and we’ll have smooth sailing for everyone.”
Editing by Josh Reich