Angelo Ogbonna is currently one of the most in-demand defenders in Italian football with interest from Manchester United, Juventus, Arsenal, Everton, Bayern Munich and Milan being reported on a daily basis. However, very few outside of the peninsula will have heard his name, with even fewer having actually watched him play.
There is a simple reason why the central defender is so unheralded; he plays for Torino FC, a club that has spent the majority of the last sixty years in the shadow of city cousins Juventus, and have only been in Serie A for two of the 24 year-olds’ seven seasons as a professional.
Yet during that time he has become vital to Torino - a standout performer in a string of unforgettable seasons for the once great club. Now the vice-captain, he has become an emblem of the fans who have erected a banner at the stadium reading ‘If you sell Ogbonna, prepare the coffin’ amid talk of a move this summer.
While clearly a threat to the much maligned owner Urbano Cairo, the sentiment perhaps holds true for the club itself, as without the player their fortunes could yet get worse. The president himself seemed to realise this when asked about losing the defender by TuttoSport;
“Angelo is not worth any less than Andrea Ranocchia and, as far as I know, he cost €19m. I already turned down an offer from Napoli in January when they bid €8m and a half-share in Fabiano Santacroce. That wasn’t enough for us.”
“If the player says that he wants to stay 110 per cent that that is one thing, if he says 80 per cent then that is another. I calmly want to understand the intentions of the boy.”
Even the free-spending clubs such as Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain would likely baulk at that price, but meeting somewhere between that ridiculous figure and the offer from Napoli would likely see a deal concluded quickly when the transfer window reopens this winter. But what would prospective buyers be getting for their money and what has he shown to justify such a price tag?
Born in the picturesque Southern Italian town of Cassino and of Nigerian descent, he has been at Torino since he was just thirteen years old, a stand out performer from almost the minute he arrived in the northern town. Using the statistics available here on WhoScored.com we can take a closer look at his abilities, starting with his average rating of 7.29 which sees him rank fifth amongst the league’s central defenders this term and 40th overall in the Italian top flight.
His two foremost traits are his impressive strength, a quality that could see him adapt to most leagues, and a great left foot. He is an accomplished passer who likes to play the ball out of defence, but that, on occasion, causes problems. Over the course of his career he has been guilty of overplaying, but this term he has been immaculate, averaging 53.7 passes per game (14th highest in Serie A), completing a staggering 95% of them – a higher pass completion rate than any other player in the league tomake at least 4 appearances. It also sees him behind only Xavi of Barcelona among players to complete more than fifty passes per match.
Of course it is defending where he must be more closely analysed, and his other main attributes are impressive pace and the fact that he can play both as a left-sided central defender or a left back. Due to his age – and Torino’s struggles – his game still has some deficiencies, although he has worked hard to eradicate them.
Earlier in his career he was often exposed due to a poor sense of anticipation of high balls, a technical flaw he has improved upon greatly over the past twelve months, winning 11 of the 18 aerial duels he has contested this season, made 5.5 clearances per match and blocked one shot during his six appearances this term. One other issue with Ogbonna was that his ability to tackle with his right foot was quite poor, often forcing him to over-commit to challenges that are unnecessary. Again he has put much effort into correcting this and the drop from his ten yellow cards in 2009-10 to just three last season would indicate he has done so. So far in 2012-13 he has made just nine tackles (1.5 per game) but committed five fouls, one of which saw him cautioned.
His ability to read the game has markedly increased, a fact borne out by his 22 interceptions at an average of 3.7 per game, good enough to see him behind only five other players in the Italian top flight. Looking at his development, particularly over the last two seasons, he seems to have outgrown Torino to the point one would suggest that now is the right time for him to cut his ties with the club and secure top-flight football elsewhere.
It is not only his club career suffering, as Cesare Prandelli commented when calling him up for his national team debut last November. From a technical standpoint he clearly belongs at that level, but the Italy coach has warned his players that they must be playing regularly to be considered for selection. Prandelli told La Repubblica;
“I would have called him sooner but we didn’t want to cause problems for Torino. We’ve been following him for a while and we’ll keep him in consideration for the future.”
He was given a place at Euro 2012 by Prandelli after the exclusion of Mimmo Criscito and has become something of a regular squad member, earning his first start in the 2-2 draw with Bulgaria in September. The right move in the coming twelve months could see him fulfil his incredible potential and Angelo Ogbonna could well be far better known before too long.