“If you sell Angelo Ogbonna, prepare the coffin,” were banners held aloft by Torino Ultras last January, when rumours of President Urbano Cairo discussing the departure of the prominent centre-back were being touted by the Italian media. With the likes of Roma, Juventus and Napoli circling the 24-year-old of Nigerian descent, and the Turin-based outfit still in Serie B, a move looked imminent at the time.
Torino ultimately managed to hold on to Ogbonna by convincing him to extend his contract until 2016, with a significant pay rise included given he was earning under €5,000 a week at the time. Giampiero Ventura’s men went on to finish runners-up to Pescara in the second tier of the Italian game and earn promotion to Serie A.
The marauding defender was subsequently one of two Serie B players to be called up to Cesare Prandelli’s Italy outfit for the European Championship, with the Lazio-born man eventually making it past the preliminary squad while Marco Verratti was sent home. He did not feature once in Poland and Ukraine, but Italy made it all the way to the Final handing him yet another second place medal and an invaluable top level experience.
Cairo and Ventura once again warded off potential suitors by slapping a €20m price tag on Ogbonna and, bearing in mind he had played only 23 games in top flight football at that point, no club could afford such a risk.
Torino strengthened significantly over the seasonal window with experienced Serie A veterans such as Alessio Cerci, Mario Santana and Jean-Francois Gillet brought in. The new signings and a core of players that fought nobly for Serie B success proved concrete, and Ogbonna featured in both a scoreless stalemate with Siena and a convincing 3-0 dispatch of former rivals Pescara. The Granata’s upcoming test is undoubtedly their biggest to date, with Inter visiting the Stadio Olimpico in Turin.
Another international break saw Ogbonna trusted to start against Bulgaria in Italy’s first qualifier for the 2014 World Cup, but his performance brought mixed reviews as Prandelli’s men stuttered in a 2-2 draw in Sofia. He was subsequently dropped for the 2-0 win over Malta when the CT reverted back to a 4-3-1-2 after using a 3-5-2 four days earlier – a system that Ogbonna is unaccustomed to.
Inter are still reeling from a devastating defeat at the hands of Zdenek Zeman’s Roma and Nerazzurri Coach Andrea Stramaccioni will be keen to get the club’s campaign back on track. But he’ll be well aware that his various attacking options will have a big wall to get over on Sunday night – that of difference maker Angelo Ogbonna.