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15 June 2022

Nedum Onuoha’s Q&A: “Never did I think I’d meet Nelson Mandela”

The former footballer on his heroes Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima and Nelson Mandela, and his love of YouTube.

By New Statesman

Nedum Onuoha was born in Nigeria in 1986 and brought up in Manchester. He made his professional football debut playing for Manchester City aged 17, while studying for his A-levels.

What’s your earliest memory?

Walking with my sister to and from primary school. Looking back I’m not sure it was the best idea: it was an inner-city area with dangers we were too young to notice.

Who are your heroes?

The Brazilian footballer Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima. Just when my love for the game was growing, it felt like he was the best player in the world. Now my heroes are my parents. I have three children of my own, so I understand the sacrifices they made to give me and my  three sisters the chance to make something of ourselves.

[See also: Sheila Hancock Q&A: “I met Clement Attlee when I was working at the circus”]

What book last changed your thinking?

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen J Dubner. It made me more curious about the world because it explains the hidden side of aspects of life that we think we already know and understand, such as the socio-economic patterns of children’s names.

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Which political figure do you look up to?

Nelson Mandela. My footballing career afforded me the opportunity to meet him in 2009 on a trip to South Africa. Never did I think I’d share a room with one of the most consequential people in history, a man whose selflessness inspired myself and millions of others.

What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

Statements that people say about footballers that really aren’t true. No, we aren’t all obsessed with money. No, we don’t all drive Ferraris. No, we can actually string two sentences together. Sometimes.

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[See also: Hannah Fry’s Q&A: “Pull handles on push doors make me feel like an idiot”]

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I’d like to go back and live in Nigeria, my place of birth, in the Seventies or Eighties, to see what made my parents who they are.

What TV show could you not live without?

I don’t watch a lot of TV but I do spend a fair bit of time on YouTube. I love the creativity that you find there.

Who would paint your portrait?

My good friend Amy Searles. I trust her to make miracles of this face of mine.

What’s your theme tune?

Gang Starr’s “Family and Loyalty”, featuring J Cole.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

My parents asking: “Are you sure?” There were so many times as a child when I thought I had all the answers. As an adult, I ask myself this, and more often than not the answer is no. It’s helped me to become a critical thinker.

What’s currently bugging you?

Manchester Airport. I’m going away with my wife soon and it looks like we may have to arrive three or four hours before the flight just to clear security in time.

[See also: I go on a first date that begins, and ends, at Gatwick airport]

What single thing would make your life better?

A lifetime’s supply of chocolate digestives.

When were you happiest?

Any time that I’ve been somewhere new with my family on holiday.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

Likely a frustrated accountant. I was doing a course with the Chartered Institute of Management Accounts while playing in the Premier League. I can’t say I enjoyed it but it made sense at the time.

Are we all doomed?

Yes, so make sure you enjoy life while you have it.

“Kicking Back” by Nedum Onuoha is published by Biteback

This article appears in the 15 Jun 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Big Slow Down