Former Blade Onuora back in the spotlight

NOBODY has more sympathy for illness-victim Peter Jackson than one-time Sheffield United player Iffy Onuora.

The world of football is as one in wishing good luck on the Lincoln City manager as he undergoes treatment for throat cancer.

His illness was an ill-wind for all concerned, yet for Iffy, it at least gave him a chance to establish a foot-hold in football management.

How he wishes his opportunity to take over had come under different circumstances.

Caretaker boss Onuora says: "Peter is a very strong character and it's obviously a big battle for him. It's time for him to look after himself and his family. He's done a lot for the club in a short space of time and it's now time for him to put himself before the club and concentrate on getting better.

"All of us, myself, the fans, the chairman, wish him a speedy recovery."

Onuora had a modest playing record as a striker for United; just one goal in eight games in 2002-4.

The journeyman forward spent two injury-plagued seasons at Bramall Lane.

The 40-year-old Glaswegian joined the Blades on a free transfer from Gillingham, where he'd scored over 50 goals. He started as United's first-choice striker, partnering Carl Asaba, and scored his first goal for the Blades in a 1-0 win at Burnley.

He recalled: "I picked the ball up relatively deep and it took a huge deflection of the defender and wrong-footed the keeper, but like any striker you're going to claim them!"

However, disaster struck when Onuora picked up an Achilles injury against Rotherham and never played again for the Blades.

"It was a huge blow, a new start for me at a big club, the kind of opportunity I had relished. I felt that I was finding my feet but I had suffered an Achilles injury. Effectively that was the end really."

He had to watch as the Blades got to the semi-finals of the FA and League Cup, before falling at the final hurdle of the play-offs at the Millennium stadium.

"The season was unbelievable, we had gone so close on three occasions, but there was a deep sense of pride.

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"That was the year United started to believe that they could get promoted into the Premiership.

"Although it took a couple of seasons after that, that season laid down a marker and the club and the fans started to believe that it was a big club capable of being with the elite.

"There's a disappointing side to it, when you're not part of the first team. You want to be able to look back and say you played your part.

"I was pleased for the lads, I made some good friends there and there was a good spirit in the squad, but for me personally, I needed to make my contribution to be part of it and I didn't feel that was the case.

"I always cheered the guys on from the sidelines but less than ten appearances in the season is not enough."

He was released by United in February 2004, joining Tranmere Rovers, after Neil Warnock told him he was going to bring other players.

"I'd half expected it. I was disappointed but understood Neil's position."

Onuora retired from playing at the end of that season and after a brief spell as assistant to Paul Merson at Walsall he joined Swindon Town and was appointed caretaker manager after Andy King's departure.

During that season Ron Atkinson joined the club as part of a fly-on-the-wall documentary series called Big Ron, Manager, which Onuora wasn't happy with.

"It became a circus in the end, trying to take training whilst the TV people were organising their shots.

"The club told me it was up to me whether we went ahead with it, but I realised that it wasn't as straightforward as that, as there was a substantial amount of money involved and it was at the time when the club were struggling to pay wages. So as a young manager it was a big responsibility to say no, when people's livelihoods are at stake.

"There was a little bit of curiosity as well, but it quickly became a circus."

Since Onuora's departure from the County Ground, after Swindon's drop into League Two, he had a coaching spell at Gillingham as well as dipping into the media.

"One thing I have learned is that the sack or leaving a club before your time is pretty much part and parcel of the job.

"It's important to add other strings to your bow. I've done a bit of lecturing, writing and broadcasting on and off since leaving the game, but the pull of being back in senior football was too great."

Onuora's charges take on Chesterfield tomorrow night.

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Football headlines.

More Blades.

More Owls.

More Spireites.

More Rovers.

More Reds.

More Millers.

More rugby.

More boxing.

Sports columnists.

All sport categories