Sunderland defender explains his Premier League ambitions with club

Even after he was struck down by an illness bug and managed to play 90 minutes during Sunderland’s 1-1 draw at Blackpool, Luke O’Nien’s passion for football was clear to see.

The 28-year-old is into his fifth season with the Black Cats and made his 200th appearance for the club during the fixture at Bloomfield Road – where Tony Mowbray’s side were without several first-team players due to illness and injuries.

“Back to bed for me now,” says O’Nien after he was put up for the post-match media duties, when he also revealed he’d missed the team’s pre-game training session a day earlier.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It was little wonder he needed a rest after another bruising encounter in the heart of Sunderland’s defence, a position he has predominantly played during this campaign.

Luke O’Nien and head coach Tony Mowbray. Picture by FRANK REID

After signing for Sunderland as a central midfielder, O’Nien has operated in several different positions since moving to Wearside and says he’s just happy to be in the starting XI.

Still, his spell as a centre-back has led to O’Nien studying the position in depth, under the guidance of head coach Mowbray and assistant Mark Venus - two former top-flight defenders in their playing days.

“We study every clip,” O’Nien tells the Echo. “Every time I’ve touched the ball I watch it back and look to see if there are any better options.

“I work with Venno, he’s played Premier League and the gaffer as well. I have good people around me who can give me good bits of advice and we just study the whole game on and off the ball, see where we can get better.

“We even study other people, not just ourselves, just to see what I would do and what they would do and just talk football all the time.

“I’m just always looking to improve, there’s no such thing as a perfect game and there are always people better and above you.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We just have to keep working for that so that when we come up against better players we are ready.”

And it’s not just at the training ground where O’Nien is trying to improve his game either.

“I just watch every goal that goes in on Match of the Day to see where I’d put myself positionally,” he adds. “I think that’s just how my brain works now.

“When goals go in I just watch it back, put it in slow-mo and see what I would have done, and sometimes you can’t stop them.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I just love the game and love studying it and am just trying to get better so when we go out there we are the best version of Sunderland we can be.”

The draw at Blackpool leaves Sunderland just a point off the Championship play-off places after 26 matches, with O’Nien still maintaining ambitions of one day playing in the Premier League.

“I still want to get there,” he says. “It was my dream as a kid to get to the Premier League and I’m still working towards that.”

If he continues to learn and improve at his current rate, O’Nien will give himself every chance.