Now that Luke O’Nien has signed a new deal keeping him on Wearside for three more years, what better time than now to make the case for his captaincy.
Whatever you may think about his footballing ability, there is one thing about O’Nien that is undeniable: his heart. The lad has more passion in him for this club than perhaps he should, given his arrival and tenure thus far at Sunderland has been during the lowest point(s) in our 142 year history.
Since joining the lads in 2018, O’Nien has experienced an EFL trophy defeat at Wembley; followed weeks later by that devastating last minute loss to Charlton in the playoff final; a record low 7th place finish in League One in a season curtailed by Covid; and yet another playoff defeat in 2021, this time in the semis against Lincoln.
However, despite all of that, not only has O’Nien decided to remain at the club, he has provided his own little Beacon of Light throughout his time here.
Whether it’s providing online P.E. lessons during the pandemic - our own Mackem Joe Wicks; or by simply being his cheerful, ever-optimistic self (I’m still convinced he is one of the only footballers who could be physically attacked like he was at Fratton Park, yet come away from it with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen), Luke O’Nien has proven time and time again to be a credit to our club.
It’s little wonder he was named the North East Football Writer’s Association’s Personality of the Year in 2021.
And as for his footballing skills on the pitch – I don’t want to hear it. When did ability on the pitch ever rule someone out of the Sunderland captaincy?
Look at Kevin Ball. He’d probably admit himself he wasn’t exactly Kevin De Bruyne. But who cares? We all still adore him and consider him a club legend. The main reason for that? He cared. The same goes for Grant Leadbitter, the most recent of our club captains. He may not have been the best player on the pitch, but there wasn’t a soul on it who could match the love he has for this club.
Being a captain is about one thing: passion. And Luke O’Nien has it in bucket loads.
In his 120+ appearances for the club, there’s not a single one I, or anyone else, could point to where he didn’t give 110%. And at the end of the day, isn’t that all we want from a captain in red and white? Someone who is willing to go out there every day and give every last drop for us?
As it is, his ability on the pitch is nothing to be sniffed at. He is the Swiss-Army Knife of football. During the 2020/21 season it feels as though the only position the 26-year-old didn’t end up playing in was goalkeeper – and I imagine even if he was asked to play there he’d be more than happy to do so, and I can guarantee he would do it all with that ever-present smile on his face.
There are many who would be too proud to play in about 20 different positions other than the midfield role he was used to, such is the ego of footballers these days. But Luke O’Nien is, I think, one of the most down-to-earth, caring footballers you will ever meet.
And that’s exactly why he should be captain.