In the modern game, true ‘role models’ are few and far between. For a host of players at the top level, money takes priority over playing the sport. In the Premier League especially, players might as well be on a different planet to the fans of the teams they play for.
There is little interaction and no real consideration as players live in their own money-laden world - it’s a depressing scenario that couldn’t be further from what football should be about.
Sunderland, up until this season, were no exceptions to the rule as scores of players rocked up to the club sniffing for cash rather than viewing the chance to play for this club as a badge of honour.
This campaign, however, has seen players sign for the club who genuinely want to be here - and one summer signing in particular is quickly becoming one of the nicest guys in the league.
Luke O’Nien signed from Wycombe Wanderers in the summer after enjoying three years in the first team at Adams Park. 15 goals in over 100 appearances made him a popular figure for the Chairboys, which is why it was all the more pleasing when he signed up to Jack Ross’ Wearside revolution.
After a couple of smashing interviews, O’Nien was also quick to lend a hand with the seat change, which opened a more genuine and positive relationship between players and supporters.
O’Nien has been more or less a regular in the match day squad in recent weeks after first impressing in the cup competitions, which earned him a start in the league.
When O’Nien bagged his first goal for Sunderland in the 2-0 win over Shrewsbury back in October it wasn’t just him who was chuffed - everyone who had watched him grow as a player in his short time at the club couldn’t have been happier; it was indicative of a change in the relationship between players and fans.
On the pitch he plays with a genuine sense passion and optimism.
Even when playing out of position, he clearly relishes every minute. Deputising at right back O’Nien is coming into his own, with two of his four goals coming in the last five matches whilst playing in this position in the absence of Adam Matthews.
He’s as good going forward as he is tracking back - qualities which few of our full backs have had over the past few years - and his penchant for a diving header is also strangely endearing.
Away from the spotlight, O’Nien comes across as genuine a guy as any of us would want one our players to be.
For example, recently O’Nien took the train back from Plymouth and spent the journey chatting to Sunderland fans about his time at the club and his hopes for the future. Let’s be honest - very few players in the modern day would even get the train, never mind chat to fans on the way home. Adding to this, he took to the pitch after the Bradford City match on Boxing day for a kick around with a young member of his family - he’s just a nice bloke.
An event bringing together the club’s press and fanzines with new signing Jimmy Dunne also saw O’Nien present. Two players in a boxing club chatting to the media, fanzines and other guests wouldn’t have even been imaginable this time last season, as relatively minor as it seems.
Luke O’Nien and all he stands for simply goes to show that things have changed immensely at our club - and long may it continue!