FRED Onyedinma has revealed he was “always committed” to signing a new deal with Millwall, but admitted he found the constant speculation over his future “difficult”.
Onyedinma, 20, let his contract with Millwall run down at the end of the season, leading to rumours that he was set to leave the club.
He was linked with a move to Premier League Watford and AFC Bournemouth, sides Onyedinma had impressed against when Millwall knocked them out of the FA Cup.
Onyedinma said after the League One play-off final win over Bradford on May 20 that he had made his mind up on his future.
But it was almost two months before both parties reached agreement, with Onyedinma signing a three-year contract earlier this month.
“I was always committed to staying here,” Onyedinma said. “It was just about getting the right contract and everything sorted. Obviously sometimes that takes time, there can be breakdowns between agents and the club, so it was just waiting and seeing.
“Towards the end of the season I made my mind up. Even though I hadn’t been playing the most important thing was to get promoted and to take it from there. These things take time, but it was frustrating because it took such a long time.
“I’m happy that it’s done. I’m focused now and will put my head down and keep working.”
Onyedinma said he received conflicting advice from those close to him with his contract running out, and admitted his parents were key influences in his decision.
He was aware that some big clubs were monitoring his situation, but his ability to step back and analyse the bigger picture demonstrates his maturity.
He explained: “Things like that, it’s difficult because you do get a lot of interest. You could be lured to bigger things, but in your career you have to try to plan out everything properly and know when you’re ready to make that step.
“It was difficult because everyone was asking me about it, even friends who are fans, asking where you’re going. And you can’t really say too much, you just have to keep your head down and hope that everything gets sorted.
“You have to be careful. I don’t have social media so I don’t see a lot in that sense. You get mixed advice, some people tell you to stay, others don’t. You just have to think through it and I’m lucky that I have people here that help me. My parents as well were important, I’m thankful for that, they gave me the best advice and I always listen to them.”
Onyedinma is still only 20 years old but is heading into his fifth season as a senior Millwall player.
That continuity with a club that under Neil Harris gives youth a chance was an important factor in his decision to sign a new deal.
It was Harris who gave Onyedinma his full debut in January 2014 and the attacker played 97 games in the last two seasons, winning promotion at the third attempt after being on the losing side with Wycombe in the League Two play-off final in 2015 and missing out with the Lions a year later.
Harris and Onyedinma stayed in touch over the summer as negotiations dragged on, and both were confident that a deal would be struck.
“At that stage it was quite difficult to speak, he was on holiday, then I was on holiday so it was difficult to find the perfect time to sit down,” Onyedinma said.
“I spoke to him early on and we both knew what the plan was, it just needed to get sorted.
“It’s a good place to develop. I’ve been here since I was 12 and I’ve come through the system. He initially gave me my debut when I was 17 [in an FA Cup tie] against Southend, I’ve worked with him for a long time, since the under-21s. I know what he’s like and he knows what I’m like. With him, if you work hard you get your chance. That’s the best thing for a young player.
“Everything has been going well. I’m happy here with the boys and the manager and we’ve been going higher and higher. This is a better stage now, it’s not League One, it’s Championship. It’s an even better challenge with better players. It’s a good step for me and for everyone. I’m focused on being here.
“That was my third time at Wembley and I finally got promoted. You don’t get that often and I have it under my belt, and with a club I’ve been with since I was young.”
The challenge for Onyedinma and Millwall is to become established in the Championship.
Millwall knocked three Premier League sides out of last season’s FA Cup, and while Onyedinma believes that shows the side’s potential, he admitted they had to repeat those performances regularly.
“We have to do that every week,” he said. “It shows what we are capable of doing but we have to go and prove that week-in, week-out.
“When I made my debut it was in the Championship so I’m delighted we’re back in it. You always aim to play at the highest level you can, it motivates you. When we were in the Championship when I was young I was always buzzing to play. I’ve more experience now so hopefully I can better cope with the standard.
“It is a big challenge. If you look at the teams there isn’t one that you’d say, ‘they’re definitely getting promoted’. Every team is quite good, so it’s going to be a tough season.
“We’ve got Middlesbrough, Sunderland, all these big sides on big stages and good atmospheres. I haven’t played at quite a few of the stadiums we’re going to. t’s going to be a really good test playing under pressure.
“It’s going to be important to have the fans behind us. When teams come to The Den they’re quite frightened.”
The retention of Onyedinma gives Harris another option on the wing or up front.
And Onyedinma is looking forward to the test. “Really and truly I think this season I’ll know where my best position is. In the Championship they are better players so I’ll find out more about myself.
“In terms of goals I just want to do better than last season.”
Image: Millwall FC