As he reflected on a remarkable season – culminating in Saturday’s loss to Barcelona – Andrea Agnelli was in no mood to discuss a possible resurgence for Serie A.
“Juventus in the Champions League final and Napoli and Fiorentina in the Europa League semi-finals isn’t Italian football's success,” the President of the Turin giants remarked, “it's three clubs who have worked well." He was clearly commenting on the organisational disarray under which these sides are forced to operate, but there are plenty of reasons for optimism on the peninsula.
Indeed, the Bianconeri have already begun to build for the future, buying players such as Daniele Rugani of Empoli or Sassuolo’s Domenico Berardi in order to sustain their current dominance. Much of that talent has been discovered by Director General Beppe Marotta, and Fabio Paratici, his trusted lieutenant. The pair have worked together for a number of years, and the fruits of their labour can be seen even today at former club Sampdoria, with a number of bright prospects now beginning to shine at the Genovese club.
With a scouting network that scours the globe, Marotta and Paratici were able to bring in the likes of Roberto Soriano – formerly of Bayern Munich and now an Italian international – at a young age, just as they are now doing at Juventus. Another player they identified early was Spanish-born Pedro Obiang, once part of the Atletico Madrid youth sector, but now very much a member of the Blucerchiati first-team.
He arrived at the club back in 2008, convinced by Paratici that his style of play was better suited to Italian football than it ever would be in La Liga. Standing 6 ft 2 in (1.87 m) tall and powerfully built, it is easy to see why the sporting director held that belief, and over the last six years his intuition has proven correct. Growing up at Sampdoria, he made his full debut in 2010, becoming a regular a year later following their relegation to Serie B, learning to add physical approach to the neat passing he had learned in the Spanish capital.
Obiang has clearly not forgotten those lessons however, as his delightful through ball to Mauro Icardi for a winning goal against Juventus showed. He remains neat in possession and loves to get forward, making runs from deep with or without the ball and bagged three goals of his own in 2014-15. He has blossomed under the guidance of Siniša Mihajlović, but there was a hint of a spat between the two men earlier this season, with Obiang kicking over a water cooler on the touchline after being substituted during a loss to Lazio.
“I’m happy because he was angry with the team’s performance and not the substitution,” Mihajlović said at the time. "It’s pointless being angry afterwards, as you need to use that fire on the field.” The player – who has since praised the coach on numerous occasions – certainly channelled his aggression, marrying a smart tactical awareness to his aforementioned skill and proving to be equally adept at breaking up the play.
According to statistics from WhoScored.com, Obiang has averaged 3.1 tackles and 1.7 interceptions per game this term, the former mark bettered by only four players in Serie A. He has often been deployed to man-mark a visiting playmaker, sticking to the task diligently and showing a good awareness of the game going on around him. Long shots at both ends have become something of a trademark, the Alcalá native unafraid to either throw himself in the path of an opposition attempt or unleash a powerful effort of his own.
He has enjoyed an impressive campaign, blossoming into a fine box to box midfielder, prompting speculation that Mihajlović would look to bring him to Milan, should the Rossoneri appoint him. The likes of Manchester City and Everton are believed to have sent scouts to watch the 23 year old midfielder, but La Gazzetta dello Sport believes West Ham United have stolen a march on their Premier League rivals.
Monday’s edition of the pink sports daily reported that the London club had agreed a €7 million deal for Obiang. Gianluca Di Marzio reported via his own website that Sampdoria President Massimo Ferrero had flown to England to conduct the deal himself, perhaps looking to bring Enner Valencia in the opposite direction.
A top quality player who has begun to deliver on the potential first identified by Marotta and Paratici, Obiang’s skill set would seem ideally suited to the Premier League, and should new West Ham manager Slaven Bilic opt to bring him in then he would be a clever first additon.