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Real Talk: Nedum Onuoha opens up on how losing his mum to cancer impacted his career

Sky Sports News is launching a new series that will explore meaningful and inspiring conversations around six key topics that deserve more attention; in the first installment, Nedum Onuoha reflects on the impact of losing his mum during his career

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Speaking on the Sky Sports 'Real Talk' series, former Manchester City player Nedum Onuoha opens up on the grief of losing his mother during his playing career and admits he lost the 'best version' of himself

Nedum Onuoha has opened up on his grief at losing his mother during his playing career and revealed his regret over being "a good professional" rather than "a good son" during her final months.

Onuoha describes his mum, Dr Anthonia Onuoha - who was also his agent - as "the most important person in my life" and says her death from cancer in 2012 was a "crushing blow" that left him "never [feeling] the same".

Speaking to Sky Sports News as part of the new series Real Talk, which brings you meaningful and inspiring conversations around six key topics that deserve more attention, Onuoha said: "She lived next door to me, I spoke to her every day and after every game, she was the first person I'd see.

"I'd step out of the stadium and there she is, by the team bus. And she'd always be giving me food - not just for me but food to give to people on the bus as well. To a certain extent, she's a nutritionist's nightmare, but that's who she was.

"My career was split in two because she passed in 2012, which was eight years after I started playing professionally. That second half of my career, as much as I enjoyed it, it felt like work."

Nedum Onuoha (right), with his mum and dad (centre), wife and three sisters
Image: Nedum Onuoha (right), with his mum and dad (centre), wife and three sisters

Just before her death, Dr Anthonia was negotiating a loan move for Onuoha to Sunderland from Manchester City and in an email to the club, she said: "I may be ravaged by cancer, but I'm not crazy or losing my mind."

Dr Anthonia then received an email in which Garry Cook, then the chief executive of Man City, appeared to mock her illness.

Cook resigned over the incident in September 2011. Cook initially denied the allegations but offered his resignation after a club investigation.

Cook told Sky Sports News: "Nedum's loss of the most important person in his life is an ongoing journey of bereavement. That is a mark of his mother's special qualities and the unique nature of their relationship. I have nothing but profound remorse for ever causing offence to Dr Onuoha and to those close to her.

"I had a private conversation with Dr Onuoha at the time and thankfully, with grace, she accepted my apology. My sincere hope is that one day I have a similar opportunity with Nedum."

Manchester City's Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak wrote to Dr Anthonia following the club's board-led review to apologise for any distress caused.

Dr Onuoha and her husband
Image: Dr Anthonia Onuoha and her husband

Onuoha said: "She literally got told she had months to live. And somebody's going to joke about the pain and suffering that she's going through.

"If you've known anyone that has had a really bad form of cancer, which is affecting their lives with the chemotherapy, radiotherapy, side effects, hair loss, vomiting, pain, discomfort - the real suffering that goes with it - and somebody's turning that into a joke...

"They don't deserve to be treated, in my mind, in a fair way, which is what I did at the time, and I regret that.

"Because of the weird position that I was in, in my youth as well, it upset me. But I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to address it.

"And I didn't go to war for my mom in the way that I would do today. Looking back, that is the heartbreaking fact because I tried to be a good professional when I should have been a good son.

"I dealt with it in a way that I felt was right in that moment, but there is no chance I would deal with it in that way today."

Manchester City's Nedum Onuoha celebrates scoring his sides fourth goal against Birmingham City in 2010
Image: Onuoha celebrates scoring for Manchester City in 2010

When his mum passed away in 2012, Onuoha was at QPR and the club had changed manager from Mark Hughes - who Onuoha played for at Manchester City - to Harry Redknapp. Onuoha was still grieving, but just a few weeks after his mum's funeral, he decided to return to football.

Onuoha said: "I knew Mark Hughes very well and he gave me the time off to be at home but I didn't know Harry Redknapp at all. It's a new manager and so you want to start right and have a positive first experience. And if he's calling me, then I guess I must be part of his plans.

"So I came back and trained for the week, and it didn't feel the same. I couldn't speak to my mum every day in the same way that I was doing previously.

Arsenal's Bacary Sagna (left) challenges QPR's Nedum Onuoha during the Barclays Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium, London
Image: Onuoha (right) in action for QPR against Arsenal

"Saturday arrives. I wasn't in the starting eleven and I wasn't on the bench, and I was just the extra player that has to hang around, and I wasn't in the right place to deal with that.

"In terms of my life, that was probably one of the lowest moments. Football all of a sudden just seemed pointless. Why am I here? It was probably the wrong thing to do from a professional standpoint, but from a human standpoint, I just left.

"I just got in the car and left and went home."

Onuoha credits his wife and a close group of friends and family for helping him get through that period in his life.

He added: "I changed, and the stress, the relegation [with QPR] and stuff was tough, but teams have to go through with that. Football turned into work for the first time - it was work and it was my job.

"When I'm with friends and with family, I'm not 50 per cent, not 60 per cent, I'm 100 per cent. If anyone needs me, I take pride in being there.

"I take pride in trying to listen, I take pride in trying to understand, because then you can try and find ways to make people's lives better. What's more joyous than that?"

Follow Real Talk on Sky Sports News' digital and social channels and watch the extended interviews on Sky Sports News, YouTube and on demand.

You can also download the podcast on Spotify and Apple, where you can listen to all the interviews and take a closer look at the meaningful conversations with an expert who helps give us a better understanding of these topics, while offering support and guidance.

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