Ryan Onwukwe is a Nigerian-American soccer player or footballer from Crystal, Minnesota (a suburb outside of Minneapolis). Also a college graduate with a degree in sociology. He is a hard working individual who is driven by his love of the sport, “which helped me stay focused and on track in life as well as obtain a college degree. I have been playing soccer since I could walk. This is because my father is a Nigerian. He grew up in Aba in Abia State.
Although I grew up in the U.S; my Nigerian roots have been present since the day I can remember. Growing up, I always imagined myself playing on the Nigerian national team because I identify as an Igbo boy. That is how I learned the sport growing up in the United States. Many of my teams I grew up playing for until I was in my teenage years were also full of other African players.
Typically, Liberians due to there being a very large community. Growing up, I was heavily involved in Umunee Cultural Association, which is based out of Minnesota. It is an Igbo cultural group that strives to maintain our cultural heritage within the youth who reside in the United States. I grew up dancing Bende War dance.
Of course, so many people including Ryan Ubachi Onwukwe-Nigerian-American goalkeeper-were pained by the unexpected flop of the two-time African Champions so much so the guy based in Sweden has offered to help the Peoples Elephants return to winning ways as soon as possible, in a reports made available to The Nation.
“Right now I’m looking to find some teams to go on trial with in the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL),” Onwukwe who is currently with Ånge IF told The Nation. “Right now, I’m just finishing out the season with my club in Sweden; four games left and then I’ll make the next move.
“I would love to play in Nigeria for some time and live there as well considering much of my family is there; I think it would be a great experience and I will grow as a player, but, more importantly, as a person.”
A year ago, Onwukwe had expressed a long-term ambition to play for the Super Eagles and he believed coming down to ply his trade in the NPFL would further help his cause, revealing that Enyimba had always been a team dear to his heart.
“I would be honoured to play in the NPFL,” insisted Onwukwe who turned 24 on August 17th. “My aim is to come there (Nigeria) next season; I’m currently playing in the 2nd division in Sweden but I’m excited to try and make this step in my career.
“I signed with Ånge IF after going on tour with Bridges FC and playing second tier in the Danish league; I’m using my time here to improve on specific things that I want to fine-tune in order to get me to the next level. I am only signed until the end of the season, which is mid-October.”
A huge admirer of former Nigerian internationals including Austin Jay Jay Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu, Onwukwe said he had long desired to come down to his roots in order to contribute his quota to its development: “I’ve thought about playing in Nigeria for a long time – probably since I was in high school – but I never really took action and nothing necessarily materialised.
“I consider myself a young Nigerian, and would like to spend a significant time of my life in a country that I call home but that has never necessarily been my actual home.
“Much of my family from my father’s side reside in Nigeria and I would love to become better aquatinted with them as well as with a beautiful country that my bloodline is from.
“I’ve recently done some investigating myself, asked fellow players about the NPFL, looked into the league, and followed it. I feel it could be a great place to help me grow as a player and potentially be noticed by the national team if I am performing and deserving of being noticed.
Reminded that the NPFL is not for the faint-hearted, Onwukwe who is a college graduate with a degree in sociology, said he is mentally ready for the ‘rough and tumble’ of playing on the Nigerian domestic football scene.
“Football in general is a tough workforce to be involved in; it is not always fun and it’s a profession, after all,” he explained. “Anywhere you go is not going to be easy. That being said, I’m a strong-minded individual who has been through some tough things in life myself and when things get hard, I put my head down and drive through barriers.
“I love overcoming low expectations – I consider myself ‘underestimated but unstoppable’ and that’s a quote I live by.
“Being an African in America, my life, as all other minorities, is based around having a tough mentality in order to simply cope, let alone overcome odds with things as simple as graduating from high school, college, etc. I love challenging myself, it’s what gives me life.
“I will never know if I have what it takes unless I put myself in challenging positions, and, in this instance, it would be striving to break into a starting 11 in the NPFL and dealing with the week-to-week mental battles that exist anywhere one takes their career in football especially for goalkeepers,“ he stated.
Speaking further on his likely destination in the NPFL, Onwukwe revealed: “I would love and be honoured to play for Enyimba FC for multiple reasons. One being that it (Enyimba) is in Aba, the city where my father grew up, and therefore the team that he supported while growing up. I’ve been familiar with them since I was young. And secondly, because they have a fantastic history and are one of the most, if not the most, decorated club in Nigeria.
“That being said, I am building my career and maybe as I progress as a player I will have more teams that will be reaching out to me to play for them. So Enyimba would be fantastic; I would love to represent the city that my family is from.
“However, I’m not picky, and I want to be somewhere where I can work towards a starting position and be pushing my team forward. Ideally, I would like to be with a club that traditionally finishes in the top half of the table to help them move their way up and be competing for Nigerian championships as well as African Champions League titles.
“I want to follow the footsteps of one of my role models, my most recent goalkeeper coach, Wael Zenga, who won an African Champions League title with his Egyptian club Zamalek.
Apart from Zenga, Onwukwe equally have admiration for Super Eagles goalkeeper to the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cup, Vincent Enyeama, who quit the international scene after an acrimonious relationship with former Super Eagles’ coach, Sunday Oliseh:
“Of course, I love Nigerian goalkeepers; Vincent Enyeama is a very explosive and exciting goalkeeper to watch. His athleticism puts him as one of the best African goalkeepers of all time and even more so, a goalkeeper in the top rankings worldwide.
“He’s performed phenomenally in the past two world cups, where I studied him as a player and tried to apply his qualities to my game. He also had a stint at Enyimba along with success in Europe.
“On top of being a quality goalkeeper, while I don’t know him personally, he seems to be a humble individual from following him on social media outlets.”
Onwukwe was actually drafted by Ånge IF in the middle of the season as they battle against relegation, hence he secured a short contract that could lead to his departure at short notice.
“That’s what the player’s agency that I’m associated with aims for-short contract,” noted Onwukwe
“They sign players with clubs in a lower division for shorter contracts in order to have them get looks from higher clubs and move their way up. My contract does have a one-year option that allows me to stay if a higher club doesn’t happen to come my way throughout my time here.
“It’s actually better like that in case a higher club or an NPFL team does come to me with a contract I’m then not stuck or bound to the club I’m currently at,“ he enthused.
Shehu Dikko, the forward-looking Chairman of League Management Company (LMC) who runs the NPFL, told our correspondent it would be a welcome development and a huge boost for the domestic game if Onwukwe can walk his talk.
“Yes, why not? It would be great to have him (Onwukwe),” declared Dikko. “It creates mores global awareness for the NPFL and it shows how we are processing when players that have opportunity to make career in Europe would want to also come NPFL to try the experience.
“Hopefully, many more would do the same and this would show to our players they can still make a career here and only moved abroad at the right time to the right club and indeed right financial terms,” he noted.
Of course, the ball is now in the court of Onwukwe to make good his intention of actualising the dream of playing on the Nigerian domestic football scene.