Nigeria’s Ogenyi Onazi looks to get his career ‘out of reverse gear’

Nigeria's Ogenyi Onazi
Nigeria’s Ogenyi Onazi accepted a cut in his wages to join Danish Superliga club SønderjyskE

Danish Superliga club SønderjyskE has offered Nigeria international midfielder Ogenyi Onazi a new way forward after a four year spell in Turkey blighted by injury.

Injuries have seen Onazi’s career look like it has been thrown into reverse – moving from Lazio in Italy’s Serie A to Turkish sides Trabzonspor and then Denizlispor and now onto Denmark..

Despite the issues the 27-year-old remains philosophical about things and believes the Danish club are the ideal platform to revive his career.

“Injuries are inevitable because it’s something that happens a lot in football, but it’s not been fair to me,” Onazi, who has just signed a one year deal, told BBC Sport Africa.

“At the most important time in my career is when it happens to me and I have no proper explanation for this.”

Onazi was tipped as next big thing when he first shot to limelight at Italian side Lazio before breaking into his country’s senior side by winning the African Cup of Nations in 2013 and playing at the 2014 World Cup.

But his brilliant run in Brazil was ended by a late tackle from Blaise Matuidi during France’s win over the Super Eagles in the round of 16.

It started a litany of injuries in his career and came to the fore when he ruptured his achilles at Turkish side Trabzonspor in December 2016.

What followed were four fraught years as he attempted to find a way back from the Achilles injury that became the bane of his existence.

Taking a pay cut

His career has never been the same and revealed the nightmare including muscle and calf problems has made him “more hungry and determined to do well”.

“Coming from where it all started I believe I’ve seen the worst that life has to offer on and off the pitch,” he said.

Nigeria's Ogenyi Onazi training at Danish club SønderjyskE
Ogenyi Onazi is confident that Danish club SønderjyskE is the ideal place for him to get his career back on track

“I am more hungry and determined to do extra well. I’ve lost a lot of grounds, but it can only be better from here on.”

Onazi, who won the 2013 Italian Cup, joined as a free agent and admitted he took a big pay cut to earn a way back to the top.

“We had other offers from different places but the main reason I chose Denmark is because I haven’t played in a while,” he admitted.

“I decided to go to a place where I can have proper fitness, get regular game time and test myself mentally.

“It was not the best option financially but it’s the most challenging and it provides a tough physical challenge. The training is physical like the German league.

“It’s a short-term plan but I am prepared to take it one week at a time and after this we can look at something bigger.”

No deal at Crotone

The move to Denmark came as a surprise to some as he had been pictured undergoing a medical in Italy after reports surfaced over a potential move to Serie A newcomers Crotone.

“It’s true I had a medical at Crotone. When I was in Turkey we had an agreement,” he confirmed.

“My agent [Ayodele Makinwa] explained everything to me on the phone, but on getting to southern Italy they pulled out of the agreement.

“This happens in football but it’s the way of life.”

High to low

A down-to-earth type, Onazi feels he is at the right club to help regain lost times.

“For me it’s not a step down if you stay in professional football and you are training really good,” he added.

“I was injured and didn’t have a good training. You need to be actively involved somewhere because training away alone will not get you to sharp fitness.

“Competitive football gives you that responsibility to be ready. It was not about money because if money was the sole motivation I would’ve gone to Saudi Arabia but it’s not yet time for that.

“I need to get back to the right things, train well and build the right muscles. That way I can open myself up for more opportunities elsewhere.”

“The most important thing is for people to see me and know that I am very fit. playing regularly for 90 minutes because people know my quality and what I’m all about.

“Being active somewhere is all they need to clear the doubts.”

Denmark to international football?

Ogenyi Onazi
Ogenyi Onazi has not played for the Super Eagles since 2018

He played for Nigeria at the 2009 Under-17 World Cup on home soil and has scored once since making his senior debut against Liberia in October 2012.

Onazi, who has 51 international caps, has not played for the three time African champions since 2018 due to poor form and fitness issues.

“I’m aware of the young players breaking into the squad and older players like me can only guide a young squad,” he offered.

“The last time I spoke to Gernot Rohr was during his last birthday but I am not someone who talks to the coach regularly.

“I still have the desire and ambition to play for Nigeria again but sadly my injury has slowed me down.

“The plan in Denmark is to play as much as I can. Help the team get as far as they need to be, reach their targets for the season.

“Hopefully I might be here for half of the season or stay the whole season.

“But if a return to the international fold doesn’t happen with my best on the pitch then I’d understand because it is not a do-or-die affair.”

Physical and mental problems are not the only issues that the Super Eagle has has to deal with having battled wage disputes in Italy and Turkey.

Presently he has a pending case at world football’s governing body Fifa who he has asked to intervene in a dispute with his last club Denizlispor over unpaid wages.

Bad times reveal true and loyal friends, according to Onazi.

He said: “I have learned a lot of hard lessons from this trying times and it will only help me get better as a person.

“Like they say tough times don’t last but tough people do.”

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