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Roker Roundtable: Where will Luke O’Nien slot into Sunderland’s team for 2023/2024?

The club’s resident ‘Mr Versatile’ has said that he’d be willing to play anywhere for the good of the team, but with a fully-fit squad, where is O’Nien’s best position?

South Shields v Sunderland Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Joseph Tulip says…

It seems that with every season that goes by, there’s talk of certain players being left behind as we seek fresh young talent.

Likewise, every summer, O’Nien is seen as a player who might not make the starting eleven, and that might be the case when we line up against Ipswich on the opening day, with our new-look side ready to take on all that the Championship has to offer.

However, you write off O’Nien at your peril.

He might not be a first choice player in any given position, but he’s so versatile across the park and he’ll be one of the first to be drafted in once there’s an injury here or a suspension there.

Hopefully our squad won’t be as stretched as last season, but these campaigns are long and rigorous, with several key players on the sidelines at different stages between August and May. With that in mind, I’ve got no doubt that O’Nien will play in at least half of our games, if not more, and he’ll take some shifting once he’s in the team.

O’Nien is a modern day icon at Sunderland, giving his all and leading by example in the way that Kevin Ball did a generation ago.

He’ll play anywhere across the midfield or defence, and even up front or in goal if you let him! His influence as a speaker, both on the pitch and in the dressing room, is also key to the development of our young players and the squad in general.

At twenty eight, he’s ambitious and still works hard to improve his game. He’ll be fighting for a shirt and I’ve absolutely no doubt that he’ll have a huge role to play and will be involved in more games than he’ll miss.

Sunderland v Watford - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says…

Irrespective of the fitness of the wider squad, I’m sure that O’Nien will both feature and make a real difference this season.

He’s a Swiss Army knife of a player, a team joker and the glue that binds our young and developing squad together. The guy is priceless to where we are now, and may be just as valuable as we look to the future.

O’Nien is so passionate about our club that in my view, he’ll be captain very soon, even if he isn’t the man wearing the armband as we run out for league games from next month.

Even if his positional influence on the pitch is dependent on others perhaps not performing as well or being injured, there’s no doubt that he’s part of the heart and soul of this youthful and closely-knitted team.

Unless you’re supporting our opponents, he’s someone you love to have on your side, winding up opponents with kisses and piggy backs. He can defend, he can score, and I’m not sure what he can’t do if he puts his mind to it.

Will he start the first game? Maybe not, but he’ll be in and around the team all season and will likely spend the rest of his career with us.

I hope he does, as we’re much better off with him around, whether that’s on or off the pitch.‎

Tom Albrighton says…

O’Nien will fit in where he always does: wherever he’s needed.

Many doubted whether he would handle the step up to the Championship - myself included - but he’s proven scores of people wrong, which is a hallmark of his career thus far.

In terms of being a starting eleven player, it’s debatable as to where he fits in, especially with a fully fit squad brimming with talent.

That isn’t a critique of his ability, but more a mark of the quality we’ve added in the last eighteen months, which is highlighted by the fact that a player like O'Nien may not be a guaranteed starter even after his best season in red and white.

What endears O’Nien to us all (apart from being a s**thouse) is his willingness to give everything and turn his hand to anything.

Whether it’s at right back, left back, centre back or even up front, if he’s needed, he’ll almost certainly play there. His versatility and athletic ability is possibly his greatest strength, despite the fact it masks a very capable player.

Whether that results in a starting berth, only time will tell, but isn’t not knowing just where and when he’ll pop up part of the fun of it all?

South Shields v Sunderland Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

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