First Look: Angelo Ogbonna

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Name: Angelo Ogbonna

Age: 27

Date of Birth: 23/05/88

Nationality: Italian

Club: West Ham

Position: Centre back

Height: 6ft 3in (190cm)

Weight 13st 5lbs (85kg)

Preferred Foot: Left

Juventus are 2-1 down against Fiorentina in their own backyard, stunned by two fantastic goals from Chelsea loanee Mohamed Salah. With just five minutes left on the clock, Fiorentina pounce and win the ball in midfield before launching a counter attack, instantly driving towards the isolated Ogbonna. The classic two versus one. The purple shirts weave and zig zag around the centre back, like two sharks toying with a wounded seal. Who does he track? Does he pressure the ball only for his adversary to pass to the wide open striker, or does he go with the runner allowing the man on the ball a free route at goal? In a split second, his decision is made. Press the ball. His backwards retreat quickly turns into an aggressive sprint and the Italian charges into Alessandro Diamanti before brilliantly sliding the ball out for a corner. La Viola waste a brilliant opportunity to kill the game and Juventus cling on by the skin of their teeth.

Ogbonna has been a name bandied around in the British press for years, heavily linked with Arsenal and Manchester United before his move from Torino to Juventus in 2013. However, after a number of injuries and a bit-part role in the side thanks to Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli, he parted ways with the Italian giants after two seasons and has now signed for West Ham. He is a player, like Dimitri Payet, who joins the Hammers with international pedigree and all involved with the club will hope that he can draw on his experience to help mark a new era in east London under new boss Slaven Bilic.

Ogbonna was born to Nigerian parents in Cassino, Italy and held a Nigerian passport before gaining Italian citizenship shortly after his 18th birthday. His footballing career began in the youth team of his local side A.S.D Nuova Cassino, who play in the Promozione Lazio, Italy’s sixth division. In 2002 he was spotted by Antonio Comi, an ex-Torino player and current General Manager. He recommended Ogbonna to the club and they spent €3,000 on the 14 year-old and integrated him into their youth team. He would continue to progress in Torino’s youth set up until the 2006/07 season, where occasional first team opportunities would arrive. He made his first Serie A start for Torino on February 11, 2007 aged just 18 in a 2-1 loss against Reggina, before ending the season with a total of four first team appearances.

He was loaned out to Serie C side Crotone for the 2007/08 season where he would remain under close inspection, making 22 league appearances for the side from the south coast as they narrowly missed out on gaining promotion to Serie B. After impressing on loan, he returned to Torino in 2008/09, featuring 25 times in all competitions before they were relegated to Serie B, finishing in 18th place.

Despite their relegation, Torino retained most of their squad and Ogbonna began to play a more regular role for il Toro, making 28 appearances throughout 2009/10. After establishinh himself in the Torino side, the 2010/11 season was a significant one for Ogbonna as he was awarded the captain’s armband, and wore it for the first time in a 3-1 victory against Cosenza in the Coppa Italia. Despite the personal success for the then 22 year-old who made 35 appearances, it was an underwhelming campaign for Torino as they finished in eighth position.

Following the disappointment of their previous campaign, the 2011/12 season was a polar opposite for i Granata as they gained promotion to Serie A, finishing in second place behind Pescara. The Italian would make an impressive 39 appearances, and he seemed to embrace his captaincy, often being the source of organisation and leadership for the side. Ogbonna found defensive solidity with Polish centre back Kamil Glik who arrived in the summer and their partnership contributed significantly to their 19 clean sheets over their domestic campaign. Hoping to build on his successful 2011/12 season, Ogbonna struggled with injuries and failed to find consistency throughout a nervy 2012/13. He made only 22 appearances for Torino after hernia surgery in addition to a thigh problem that kept him out of action for five months.

Even when he was playing, he was a shadow of his former reliable self. He gave away three penalties in two matches against Atalanta and Cagliari, and was sent off in the latter encounter. Despite his troublesome season, he officially signed for Juventus on July 12, 2013  for a transfer fee of €13 million. He became the first ever player to captain Torino and transfer to their rivals Juventus, which naturally put him in the bad books of the Granata faithful.

Ogbonna made 25 appearances for Juventus over the course of the 2013/14 season, starting more regularly in the second half of the season as the team was heavily rotated for Serie A, the Champions League and the Coppa Italia. Despite not playing such as pivotal a role as he had with his former club Torino, the then 26 year-old was still involved in the squad which won the Serie A title, his first piece of silverware. 2014/15 would be a similar story, this time making 30 appearances but his role as a rotational option was still clear. He was awarded a run in the side due to a long term injury to Andrea Barzagli, but was often criticised for his level of performance by the media. However, the Bianconeri ended the season with the Serie A and Coppa Italia titles, as well as finishing runners’ up to Barcelona in the Champions League where Ogbonna would be an unused substitute.

What instantly catches the eye with Ogbonna are his imposing physical attributes. Boasting a 6ft 3in frame along with his 13st 5lbs weight, it’s fair to say that the 27 year-old will be able to compete, if not have an edge over most strikers he faces. A lot of defenders are known for their fearsome statures but lack of pace, however this does not apply to Ogbonna as he is surprisingly quick for his size, an extremely useful trait to have that also allows him to fill in competently at left back. The Italian wins 65% of his aerial duels, and 60% of his total duels both on the ground and aerially. Other defensive statistics worth noting are his 1.02 tackles won, 1.63 interceptions, 0.66 blocks and massive 4.90 clearances per 90 minutes which really highlight his no nonsense style, as well as his tendency to play on the front foot. He also rarely fouls his opponents, only committing 0.92 fouls per 90 minutes, as well as having come through the entirety of last season without making a single error.

Juventus regularly deploy a 3-5-2 formation, which is reliant on the three centre backs being capable and efficient on the ball, and Ogbonna certainly excels in this area. He ended the 2014/15 campaign with an 89% pass completion rate, making 1,167 passes in his 25 appearances. This is a percentage bettered only at the club by Andrea Barzagli, who played almost 1,000 fewer passes and minutes than him in an injury hit season. Ogbonna looks to kick start attacks and move the ball quickly for his side, completing on average 60 passes per 90 minutes, with 53.16 of those being successful in addition to 42.60 being played forward. An example of his passing ability can be seen against Cesena on February 15, 2015 where he received the ball in his own half before accurately fizzing the ball all of 50 yards right to the feet of Alvaro Morata, who had dropped slightly deep to lose his marker. Defenders who can pass well will always be valued, as they can be trusted to pick out the sides more dangerous players when they find space.

While Ogbonna can sometimes be caught out positionally, his pace often rescues him from troublesome situations. An example of his recovery speed can be seen against Hellas Verona on May 30, 2015 where the Italian began to dash for a loose ball in midfield before hesitating, allowing Bosko Jankovic to nip in at full stride and knock the ball ahead of him. Despite the winger’s 10 yard advantage, Ogbonna made up the difference in no time, tipping the ball around the corner, even managing to retain possession. Concentration lapses like these may be punished more severely in the Premier League, but in the worst case scenario he always has his raw speed to rely on in hope of recovering and preventing a dangerous goalscoring opportunity.

Perhaps he hasn’t quite fulfilled his potential, but Ogbonna is still a very good centre back when confident and injury free. After a tough couple of years at Juventus, a change of scenery may be the best thing for the 27 year-old who now has a point to prove as he hopes to find form before the European Championships in France next summer. With the impressive pace and physicality he possesses, he could be a perfect fit for West Ham and the Premier League and in an ageing defence he will be a welcome addition to their side. After fending off competition from Everton, £8m could look like a steal should he iron out a few of the inconsistencies in his game.

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Will Ogbonna be a good signing for the Hammers? Italian international or Juventus reject? Write to us:[email protected]

First Look: Angelo Ogbonna
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