Since his playing career ended, Nedum Onuoha has emerged as a star for ESPN’s coverage of Euro 2020 on ESPN, ABC and ESPNFC. This week, World Soccer Talk caught up with the former Manchester City, Queens Park Rangers and Real Salt Lake star defender. Onuoha, who is based in the United Kingdom, is spending three weeks in Connecticut covering UEFA European Championship.
One of several former defenders in the Premier League who has gone on to become a standout analyst, Onuoha discussed how being on teams of various levels informed his commentary and analysis today. “When I was on teams fighting relegation where every match matters, it’s a crazy environment to be in as it is fighting to get out of the Championship. It informs how you view and analyze the game,” explained Onuoha.
Among the current crop of analysts that Onuoha played alongside Manchester City in their backline are Danny Mills, Joleon Lescott and Micah Richards. Speaking specifically of Richards, Onuoha is very happy to see how big a star he has become on British television as well as in the United States on CBS Sports coverage of the UEFA Champions League.
Media training for players both at Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers (QPR) helped Onuoha develop the skills necessary for appearing on television and speaking in a detailed manner about soccer. Serving as captain of QPR for his final three seasons at the club also helped lead directly into his broadcasting career.
Toward the latter stages of Onuoha’s playing career, he featured regularly on podcasts and was able to discuss soccer in a more detailed and analytical way due to the long-form format of audio podcasts. That gave Onuoha a multi-year ramp-up to get to the point where he was very comfortable with detailed analysis and longer segments on the ESPNFC program. The feedback he received from podcasts was invaluable in refining his presentation style to where appearing on camera as a studio analyst was a logical evolution of the skills he developed from the podosphere. Following his retirement as a player, Onuoha transitioned directly into on-camera long-form styled analysis for the ESPNFC program thanks in large measure to his experience with podcasts.
“I did several shows over two and a half years for the BBC on Five Live,” said Onuoha. “I knew I was getting to the end of my career, and I knew I had to do something else. I also have been on other podcasts and in that time I developed how to speak with other people, what the audience liked and didn’t like, and learned in that time what people want to hear about beyond just playing on the field.”
During the Euro 2020 tournament, Onuoha has been ever present on both the ESPNFC program and ESPN’s linear wraparound presentations for tournament matches.
Onuoha mentioned that he doesn’t do a lot of TV in Britain that’s similar to the EURO 2020 linear programs, so it’s something he’s learned to really master during this tournament and he feels he’s getting better with every broadcast. The production and preparation at ESPN is at a top level and helps the talent. Plus, the working environment with other top talent certainly raises the bar for everyone involved.
Preparing to analyze some of the less prominent sides in the tournament such as Ukraine and Russia who have very few players plying their trade in western European leagues was challenging, Onuoha mentioned, but during the course of a tournament he got a strong feel for these nations, the style of play and who the standout performers were. Having served in the studio during the Ukraine-Sweden Euro 2020 Round of 16 match, Onuoha was well-prepared to discuss Ukraine when they faced England in the quarterfinals, this past Saturday.
Regarding approaching the Ukraine-England quarterfinal and diving deeper into his analysis, Onuoha said, “You are not going to get applauded for saying on TV that Ukraine last beat England in whatever year at whatever stadium at whatever time. You need to focus more on how they are going to approach the game, what makes them dangerous, you know about certain (Ukraininian) players, especially those who have played in England, so that is what I did.”
Onuoha feels that communicating to an American audience is very different from broadcasting to viewers in the United Kingdom. The European Championships have attracted a much larger audience than the average MLS game on national television and in many cases larger audiences than UEFA Champions League or Premier League broadcasts. So with a spike in viewership around this tournament, it presents a challenge in communicating to a larger audience that is tuning in specifically for the Euros.
Finishing his playing career in the United States for Real Salt Lake gave Onuoha an insight into the levels of support the sport receives in the United States and the types of presentation and commentary an American audience prefers.
Onuoha is just seven months into his post-playing broadcast career but has already been very successful in providing cutting-edge analysis and insight into the FA Cup and Euro 2020 tournament for ESPN.
Author: Kartik Krishnaiyer