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Luke O'Nien: 'I felt like an imposter at Sunderland'

By Michael Graham,


Luke O'Nien has opened up on his difficult few months at Sunderland - and how he came through them.

Luke O’Nien has lifted the lid on his difficult early days at Sunderland, revealing that he felt like ‘an imposter’ for being at the club.

O’Nien is a key player now and is only appearing to be getting better all the time. It didn’t start out that way for him at Sunderland, though.

His debut in 2018 was tough. He had recently arrived from Wycombe and was put straight into the centre of midfield for the opening game of the season against Charlton.

It was live an TV and a massive crowd was in the Stadium of Light too, but he was hauled off at half-time due to poor performance.

He then had to be patient to try and get another chance, which he of course eventually did, but it took some figuring out.

“It was clear I had been missing a key part when my Sunderland career started negatively and there soon followed a bit of an identity crisis,” O’Nien told Sky Sports .

"I was trying to understand why I suddenly had no confidence, why I felt like I didn't belong. I had gone from Wycombe to Sunderland, which was a big step up. I made a few mistakes in front of 35,000 people and had been taken off on my debut after 45 minutes live on Sky. Not the dream start I hoped for.

"It really hit me hard for months. I had articles and negative social media coming out about me left, right and centre. There was talk of shipping me out in the January transfer window. Every person told me that if you do well here at Sunderland, you will have the best years of your life but I was far, far away from meeting those expectations. It was killing me. I felt like an imposter. I could not find a rhythm.

"I felt really low every single day and my default mode was to work harder. That had gotten me to where I was. I used to get in before everyone else and do more ball work, more gym work and more swimming. The whole lot. When everyone left to go home, I would do it all again.

"I was doing 8 until 5 when everyone else was doing 9 until 2. I was going home shattered after playing rubbish in training, repeating that process every week. For the first time in my life, it did not make sense. Until then, every time I worked harder it had got results.”

In search of answers, O’Nien turned to sports psychologist Rob Blackburne to try and fit all the broken pieces back together.

Just why was it that the harder he worked the worse he was getting?

"For three months, I was on the bench not playing. An awful performance in a behind-closed-doors friendly, which began to become the norm in my head, led to a chat with two people, the first-team coach Potts (John Potter) and the other being Rob.

"What I came to realise is that form is not a skillset but a mindset problem. It is a thinking problem. I had been working on my skillset for months but I was getting worse. The problem was in my head.

"That is the control centre. Muscles are simply dumb. The thing that initiates the movements is the brain. It is all to do with the mindset. I didn't just become a bad player overnight and my skillset and form just suddenly stopped. I became a bad thinker overnight which inhibited my performance. There is a big difference.

"I then worked with Rob, understood the power of the mind and I started to enjoy football more. I became a better person on and off the pitch and I know others need this help and support to bring out the best version of themselves too.”

You can read the full article on Sky Sports, in which O’Nien talks about his desire to change the academy system to help players gain the mental tools they need, on Sky Sports .

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