Angelo Ogbonna: Everything Arsenal Fans Need To Know About Italy's Future Captain
It was Silvio Berlusconi who not so many years ago claimed that Italy had no desire to become a multi-ethnic country, but as with many of the former prime minister and AC Milan owner’s opinions he was out of step with reality.
Italy is progressing steadily into a society in which the colour of your skin, race or religion does not matter although there is no getting away from the fact that certain football stadia still harbour racist factions, but the “new Italians” will eventually silence the haters.
Leading the way forward have been a group of players in their late teens and early 20s such as Mario Balotelli and Angelo Ogbonna, who are Ghanaian and Nigerian by ethnicity respectively; both are born and bred Italians and are destined to be at the forefront of Cesare Prandelli’s Italy squad for years to come.
While Balotelli may have grabbed the headlines for his extravagance on and off the pitch, Ogbonna is much more low-key in his approach but there is no doubt he will make a major impact very soon.
At 24, the central defender is the mainstay of newly-promoted Torino whom he joined in the summer of 2005. He was named Serie B defender for last season and although he failed to play in any of the Azzurri matches at Euro 2012, Prandelli started him against Bulgaria in the opening World Cup 2012 qualifier at the beginning of September.
Despite spending three years out of the top flight, the physically-imposing Ogbonna has built a growing reputation not only as a rock-hard defender but a creative fulcrum in bringing the ball out of defence.
At times, his desire to employ skill over thumping the ball away has cost his side a goal or two but with just five international caps to his name, Prandelli, for one, has been unconcerned and maintained that a ball-playing defender would be prone to the odd lapse until they gained more experience.
Unruffled in the heat of the action even in the shirt-pulling, all-in grappling world of Italian football, he was awarded the Piermario Morosini Gentleman’s Award - named in honour of the Livorno midfielder who collapsed and died during a match last season - for his sportsmanship throughout the campaign.
He has also remained loyal to Torino despite interest from the likes of city rivals Juventus, AC Milan and Napoli who made a summer approach, following up enquiries from the previous January, reportedly making an offer in the region of 10million euros.
Much will depend on how Toro are faring by the end of the year on whether the club decide to cash in on a determined character who has set his sights at playing at the highest level both at club and international level – and any asking price will now reach 20m euros.
There is no doubt that the Granata would like to hold on to a player who they have nurtured and earmarked as their captain in the not so distant future - he has already worn the armband when Rolando Bianchi has not been available.
However, the harsh economic realities of the modern game have hit the fortunes of bigger Italian clubs than Torino and they may well succumb to a tempting offer, but on the positive side, further down the line wherever Ogbonna may end up playing it would be no surprise if someday soon he was also proudly leading his country.