BRUSSELS (Tuesday, January 30, 2007) -- Oguchi Onyewu has a new home -- finally!
The 24-year-old United States central defender and his now former club, Standard de Liège of Belgium, have decided to roll the dice to some extent and accepted a six-month loan deal that takes the big American to Newcastle United of the English Premier League.
Left spurned was Marseille, a French Ligue 1 club which thought it had acquired Onyewu via transfer on Friday. Standard announced on its web site that afternoon that the deal was done and Onyewu would sign a contract with Marseille over the weekend. C'est la vie.
Newcastle's deal puts an end to a month of speculation, which tied the 6-foot-4, 210-pound World Cup veteran to teams in England, France, Italy and Spain, and some of the world's most powerful clubs. Onyewu had previously expressed a strong desire to play in the Premier League and on the fourth try, he got his wish.
Onyewu received an English work permit on Newcastle's first application, a team official said.
During last summer's World Cup, Onyewu was allowed to leave the U.S. team and visit Middlesbrough in England. After returning to Germany, Onyewu's told SoccerTimes he was not interested because of the Premiership club's unsettled coaching situation.
Earlier this month, Onyewu also said no to Fulham's offer of a transfer fee of near $2 million to Standard.
Last week, before apparently deciding to join Marseille, two-time defending EPL champion Chelsea made a reported $3.95 million transfer bid. Onyewu's agent Will Sherling was quoted as saying the uncertain status of the team's embattled manager Jose Mourinho caused Onyewu to decline.
During the January transfer window, Onyewu was tied to AC Milan and Lazio of Italy, Real Madrid of Spain and Lyon in France, among other clubs.
Ironically, Onyewu's first appearance for Newcastle could come Saturday in a road game against a spurned suitor -- Fulham. Onyewu, "is very fit at the moment and will be in the squad for Saturday against Fulham," Magpies manager Glenn Roeder told the team's web site.
Standard and Marseille thought they had a deal to the point they exchanged papers. Standard filed a transfer statement with world governing body FIFA and the Belgium Football Association, and then formally announced the transfer. Onyewu had a contract in hand and was to sign it and fax it to Marseille over the weekend.
However, according to media reports, Sherling contacted Newcastle Friday night and found a willing partner. Roeder had announced his top priority for the transfer period was to acquire a central defender. He thought he had a deal for Fabricio Coloccini, but at the last minute could not pry the Argentinean loose from his Spanish club Deportivo La Coruna for a reported $3 million.
It was decided there was not enough time to work out a formal transfer with Newcastle and United was not sure it wanted to invest the millions Standard was asking to part with the American defender. So, the sides agreed to what was clearly a six-month trial for Onyewu in what surely amounted to a complex deal.
"Oguchi has 12 games now to make a big enough impression here to earn a permanent move and I certainly hope that is the case," Roeder told the web site. "He gained a lot of experience at the World Cup and I am delighted to have him."
Details of the loan agreement were not released, but given Onyewu's contract with Standard expired at the end of June, two scenarios were likely. First, Standard required an extension of the player's contract before agreeing to the loan, therefore allowing the team to collect a transfer fee over the summer. It was reported Newcastle has an option to retain Onyewu beyond the 2006-07 season. If this is the case, a transfer fee and the player's salary for future seasons were probably negotiated into the loan agreement.
Less likely, Standard felt Onyewu might reject all transfer offers, and therefore it risked losing him after this season for no compensation at all. In that case, Standard might decide whatever money it received for the loan -- a sum that could be substantial -- was better than nothing. Meanwhile, Newcastle certainly assumed Onyewu's salary for the remainder of this season.
It is probable a large insurance policy was taken out with Onyewu and Standard beneficiaries should he suffer a major or career-ending injury before a full transfer occurred.
"Oguchi was looking to step higher if he could," Roeder said. "And he feels coming here to Newcastle for the next 12 games or so that he can make a good enough impression to make it a permanent move. He comes across as an impressive person. He is certainly physically impressive, which is something I feel we need."
After tomorrow, transfers will not be allowed until after the completion of the current European season.
Sherling said finding a team for which Onyewu could be assured of an immediate and lasting starting position was of prime importance to his client. A move to such clubs as Real Madrid, AC Milan or Chelsea would not have come with such guarantees.
"I am not here just for the short term," Onyewu told The Independent of London. "I am definitely here for the long term and to make something special happen."
Moving to Marseille would have brought Onyewu a situation like he wanted (as well as a transfer fee reported to be around $4 million). Newcastle presents more of a challenge. If he does not play well enough for Newscastle to enact a long-term offer, Onyewu could wind up back on the market with his value diminished. Apparently, both he and his Belgian club think it to be a risk worth taking.