"Angelo Ogbonna is a young talent who has the ability and work ethic to not only become one of the best defenders in Italy, but of anywhere in Europe,” said Antonio Conte of his side’s newest acquisition.
The then-Juventus coach was speaking in July 2013, just a few days after the Bianconeri had handed cross-town rivals Torino a €13 million sum in exchange for a man who had blossomed into one of Serie A’s brightest prospects.
Born in the picturesque Southern Italian town of Cassino and of Nigerian descent, he had been with the Granata since he was just 13 years old and was a stand-out performer from the minute he arrived in Turin. His Serie A debut came just five years later, and aside from spending the 2007/08 season on loan at Crotone, he had been a regular member of the team ever since.
Despite his age, he would captain Torino, such was his status within the squad and the esteem in which he was held. As his final season drew to a close, fans at the Stadio Olimpico unfurled a banner which read “if you sell Ogbonna, prepare your coffin.”
President Urbano Cairo – a notoriously tough negotiator – ensured his club received a high fee, but it seemed Juventus had reinforced what was already Italy’s strongest defence by quite some distance.
Ogbonna had already become a member of the Italian national team, and as he joined the Bianconeri it appeared to be a perfect fit. He is the very prototype that would be used to create the perfect central defender; tall – he stands at 6ft 3” (1.92m), strong, tough in the tackle, commanding in the air and intelligent in possession.
His career began at full-back, and that role taught him to be a fine crosser of the ball, and he has retained that skill while developing into a neat passer overall, completing an average of 89.4% of his attempts last season according to figures from WhoScored.com.
Rarely fouling his opponents, Ogbonna has also displayed versatility at Juventus, featuring all across the back three, as an orthodox central defender in a back four and even filling in at full-back on occasion.
Yet, after just two seasons, the Bianconeri are prepared to sell him this summer, with a deal taking him to West Ham seemingly on the brink of being completed in the next few days following apparent interest from Everton and Southampton.
There have been no dressing room bust-ups – indeed the 27-year-old is well-liked and regarded as being fine professional – leaving just one simple truth behind his failure to cement his future with Italian football’s grand Old Lady: A lack of concentration.
Watching Ogbonna closely over a long period of time – and he has played almost 250 games for club and country – all those aforementioned traits come to view. He shows constantly and consistently that he has everything needed to fulfil Antonio Conte’s prophecy and become one of the finest defenders on the continent. Then he just stops.
It is inexplicable to witness and utterly bizarre, but there are moments watching him when he seems completely oblivious to the game going on around him.
The semi-final of the 2014/15 Coppa Italia offers a prime example as, with the first leg finely poised at 1-1, Fiorentina broke forwards early in the second half. Mohamed Salah had already scored a superb opener, but Ogbonna completely failed to recognise the danger posed as the Chelsea winger drifted in front of him. The Egyptian picked up the ball, turned, ran towards goal and struck a fine shot beyond Marco Storari in the Juve goal.
Ogbonna appeared completely nonplussed, barely appearing to make the effort to prevent Salah’s run and not making anything resembling a challenge.
It is far from an isolated incident, with the similar instances appearing throughout his two years with the Bianconeri, in all manners of games and against a variety of opponents.
With Max Allegri preferring a four-man defence and Juventus securing the signature of Daniele Rugani – who was previously profiled here – the Italian champions can comfortably afford to allow him to move on.
That would give the club five central defenders without Ogbonna, and the fact that most reports indicate the East London club will pay between £8 million and £10 million would have made the sale a remarkable simple decision for Juventus.
Perhaps regular first-team football will help him eradicate those lapses, but he is no longer a talented youngster, he should be at the peak of his abilities.
The bright lights of the Premier League will leave him with no place to hide, and Ogbonna will hope that he can finally realise his immense potential with West Ham.
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