With Torino defender Angelo Ogbonna having emerged as a target for Liverpool, Adam Bate examines the Italy international's strengths to discover what he could bring to the Premier League.
By Adam Bate - Follow me @GhostGoal
Last Updated: 12/11/12 1:32pm
It's clear that Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has plenty of faith in Angelo Ogbonna. This summer he ensured the Torino defender would become the first Serie B player to represent the Azzurri in a major tournament. If reports are to be believed, the next step for the 24-year-old could be a move to the Premier League.
Ogbonna himself appears in no rush to dampen speculation and has been vocal in his willingness to consider a move to England. "I had many offers but I chose to stay here and I'm happy to have made it," he told Tuttosport before thanking Giampiero Ventura, the Torino boss who guided the team to promotion last season.
"Ventura has influenced me more than anyone else. I've always been happy here. I have a long contract with Torino, I will give my best this season. Then we'll see. I would go abroad willingly. I would like to experience other cultures. English football fascinates me, but the style is similar to Torino's one. And I speak English."
Manchester United are believed to have shown an interest in Ogbonna but appear to have been dissuaded by the price. "I can guarantee that there are observers of many foreign clubs who follow our games, including United's scouts," Torino sporting director Gianluca Petrachi told tuttomercatoweb.com.
"Most of the time they come just to see Ogbonna because he is a player who has great potential. Last year we refused £10million for him, but it is clear that he is worth more than £16million. When an offer arrives, the final word will be up to the player. Angelo certainly has the desire to do better, but I believe he should continue to grow with Torino because his primary goal is to improve himself with our team."
And grow he certainly has. As with many young defenders, while his pace and strength were never in doubt, there were questions asked of his positional play and concentration levels. But Ogbonna went some way to answering those as Il Granata won a return to Serie A. This season he has quickly banished thoughts that he would not be able to translate that form to the top flight.
Torino have started the season in encouraging fashion, keeping four clean sheets in their opening seven games. But it's the statistics of Ogbonna that may be catching the eye of Premier League scouts. He ranks fifth in Serie A for interceptions just ahead of international team-mate Giorgio Chiellini. And yet, unusually for a defender, it's the passing stats that may be of particular interest.
|Serie A 2012/13 (min 180 minutes played)|
|de Jong, Nigel||Milan||91.72|
|Serie A 2012/13|
Ogbonna has a 94.26% pass completion rate so far this season. That's more than any other player who has started a game in Serie A. But crucially, he has also played more successful long-balls than any centre-back in the division. This highlights the fact that Ogbonna does not merely take the easy short option - he possesses a quality left foot that can pierce an opponents' defensive line.
Those are the sort of figures that will continue to attract the attention of Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers. The former Swansea boss is keen to get the Reds playing a possession-based game and that process starts from the back. Rodgers has been promised funds in January and while the assumption is that he will look to strengthen in attack that might not be his only focus.
Ogbonna is aware of the interest. "It is flattering to be linked with Liverpool football club, one of the biggest clubs in the world. It's very famous," said the player of Nigerian descent earlier this month. "However, my contract with Torino expires in 2016 and I like Torino as a club. But you never know."
Torino's asking price could yet prove prohibitive to a deal. But if Ogbonna can continue to impress the scouts with his classy passing from the centre of defence, the Turin club will not be able to fend off his admirers for too long.