Manchester City are celebrating the 10-year anniversary of their first Premier League title triumph, one which has been etched into football folklore for the way they won in dramatic fashion on the final day of the 2011-12 season.
The Citizens were trailing their bitter rivals Manchester United by eight points with six games remaining, but they managed to reduce the deficit and were level on points heading into the final game of the campaign against Queens Park Rangers at the Etihad Stadium.
After Pablo Zabaleta opened the scoring, strikes from Djibril Cisse and Jamie Mackie turned the game on its head for the R's, who were fighting for Premier League survival. City were seemingly on course for a disappointing defeat, but Edin Dzeko's stoppage-time equaliser was followed by arguably the most iconic moment in Premier League history.
With 93 minutes and 20 seconds on the clock, Sergio Aguero netted a remarkable winning goal, creating pandemonium within the Etihad and helping Roberto Mancini's side come from behind to win 3-2. As a result, the Citizens secured the title on goal difference in the most dramatic of circumstances, snatching it from their rivals at the death.
While the Man City players will remember May 13, 2012 as a joyous occasion in their careers, it was a surreal moment for former Citizens defender Nedum Onuoha, who played for QPR on that day at the Etihad just four months after leaving the club where he began as a 10-year-old and spent eight years in the first team.
Onuoha, who will see his autobiography 'Kicking Back' released on May 17, has spoken to Sports Mole about the rollercoaster 2011-12 campaign he experienced with both clubs, but began by sharing his memories of a loan spell at Sunderland the season before, admitting that he was keen to return to City despite enjoying his spell in the North East.
"So [before the 2011-12 season] I was on loan at Sunderland and I remember watching from my living room as City we're winning the FA Cup. I think they were either beating Man United (in the FA Cup semi-finals) or winning the FA Cup, and I remember thinking for as much fun as I'm having at Sunderland, Manchester still feels like home and if I had the chance to be there, to play even for half the games, that felt like more of what I wanted to do."
However, Onuoha's decision to return to City did not go according to plan, as he and a number of other players were told to leave the club ahead of pre-season.
"Looking back, I don't know if that was necessarily the best decision but I went back to City and the last week of the season I spoke to [Roberto] Mancini and said I wanted to come back and I wanted to learn and work to try and figure out how to be in the side and he said 'okay, cool'.
"So I finished the season at Sunderland, I actually got married and then on the honeymoon, we (my wife and I) were in a helicopter in San Francisco and I had a voicemail, I listened to the voicemail and it was a message from the director of football saying you need to find yourself a new club. That was day one of my honeymoon I was [thinking] this is really not a good start.
"Then it was the Saturday before starting pre-season (in the United States) on the Monday, we were at Centre Parks, Whinfell Forest, I was with a few of my friends and I got a message from [a club secretary] and they said you don't need to come in on Monday, come in on the following Saturday. So initially, I was excited that I've got more time off, and then I sent a few more messages out and the other [first-team players] were still starting on the Monday. So they're going to train Monday through to Friday and leave for America on the Friday and then I was going to come in on the Saturday."
Onuoha has reflected on how 'crushing' it was to receive such treatment and believes it was harder for himself in comparison to the other players, as he had a stronger connection to the club where he began at the age of 10.
"I came in with [Emmanuel] Adebayor, Wayne Bridge, I think Roque Santa Cruz, Craig Bellamy, maybe a couple of others. We had basically been told without somebody telling us that they don't want us around and that was tough. It was tough for those guys, but I felt it was tougher for me because that was my club. I never caused an issue, and not to say those guys caused an issue, but they were all brought in, [whereas] I had been a part of the fabric of the football club at this point for 10, 12 years. I was crushed.
"I was gutted because we were basically playing and training with the Under-16s and Under-18s. I was gutted, every day I was gutted. [The first-team squad] came back from the USA and the manager decided he didn't want us around at all, so they made us train at three o'clock in the afternoon so that we wouldn't see anyone from the first team. So again, I'm absolutely devastated."
Onuoha has also reflected on the "awkward" moment of saying goodbye to his City colleagues in anticipation of leaving the club, before having to return after failing to secure a deadline-day move in the summer of 2011.
"The transfer window was closing at the end of August, I packed up my boots and left. Deadline day I thought I'm going to be going somewhere and I sat in my living room and just watched TV, watched the deadline day as I didn't receive a call and I didn't go anywhere. So I had to take a bin bag full of boots back into the training ground on September 1, saying hi to everyone after I'd said bye to everyone. That was awkward."
Onuoha became a peripheral figure under Mancini and made only a handful of appearances across all competitions. The defender has admitted that he was "reluctant to leave" City in January 2012, but due to his difficult relationship with Mancini and a lack of game time, he believed at the time that a switch to QPR would benefit his football career.
"Before you know it, the next game after the window closed I think was a Champions League game City versus Napoli, City's very first Champions League game ever and I was in the squad for it, this is after not training with the first team for two or three months prior, so I'm thinking what is this? I was in a squad but then I ended up getting left out, and from there, I played in two League Cup games, didn't play in any real league games until the very last one before I left. I was just a token member of the squad and was treated as such by the manager.
"So I had to leave in the end, and I went to QPR. I was reluctant to leave but then the reality is you can't waste years as a professional because you never know how many you're going to get when you look back, that might end up being your last season. If you choose to sit on your hands for a year then what are you going to be thinking about."
Onuoha left one club in City, competing at the top end of the Premier League, for another in QPR who were embroiled in a relegation scrap at the opposite end of the table, and the defender has revealed how challenging it initially was to settle in at the West London outfit, playing for a struggling side and in a "new environment" with players he had yet to build relationships with.
"So I went [to QPR] and things were tough, losing week in week out is tough, especially when you're doing it with a bunch of strangers in a new environment, in a new city. That was tough, to settle in fully was very, very tough because it was just about winning games and we weren't doing that. When you're winning, football is the easiest sport in the world. When you lose, you realise everybody's different in that point because everyone's got different perspectives. That was a tough four months.
"We happened to score in the last minute against Stoke the week before (facing City on the final day) which put us above the [relegation] line. I've then got to go back to play against Man City hoping that they don't relegate me and QPR."
As a City supporter, Onuoha has revealed how anxious he felt heading to the Etihad for QPR's final-day showdown with the Citizens as there was so much at stake for both sides. A win would keep his new team in the top flight but also prevent City, his boyhood club, from winning their first Premier League trophy. Although he has admitted that the game was "incredibly stressful" he feels privileged to have taken part in such an iconic fixture in Premier League history, one which saw both sides in the end celebrate for different reasons at full time.
"I was so nervous. I felt physically sick for the week leading up to it, because it was just horrible, and then everyone knows how that game panned out. But for [QPR], pretty much every player on the field thought we were down when [Aguero's] goal goes in, but then we realised that we're not and before you know it, every player on the field is high-fiving every player and it was probably one of the most joyous moments I had in my career.
"But just for a split second, it was incredibly, incredibly stressful and to think that that's how it ended after the way it started for me, that's a big swing, that was a very, very long year. It had tonnes of highs, quite a lot of lows as well, but at the end of the day you appreciate playing football now looking back. It was probably one of the most consequential games in Premier League history, let alone world football history, so to say I was a part of it is a true privilege."
Onuoha spent six-and-a-half years at QPR and made over 200 appearances, with the 2013-14 Championship playoff final triumph the highlight during his time at Loftus Road. In 2018, the defender decided to joined MLS outfit Real Salt Lake, where he played for two years before hanging up his boots in 2020.
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