“Geoffrey Kondogbia has to better understand Italian football, he takes too many touches and is not used to playing in tight spaces. It is only a matter of time for him. I remain convinced he will do well,” Inter boss Roberto Mancini told Sky Sport Italia in October 2015.
The problem Kondogbia has had since his move from Inter is that his skill-sets are so varied, he has been interpreted as being more than one type of player. His erratic spells at performing admirably in each of these areas has seen many question whether he belongs or particularly excels in any position. Had Inter bet the bank on a Jack of all trades, master of none?
Yet he has had success before under the watchful pillars of the Stadio Meazza and now he is starting to find that form again. In recent weeks, Stefano Pioli seems to have unlocked the enigma that is Kondogbia and it is to the Nerazzurri’s undoubted benefit. Inter are even back in the race for a top three finish, which you can have a flutter on with football betting on Italian Serie A for UK sportsbook players.
He came, he saw, he faltered, this was the story of the Frenchman’s first months in Milan, as he struggled to shake off the incredible price tag. The €40m was coupled with a reported €4.5m wage and the need for success was instant. Any footballer in today’s market is expected to hit the ground running, even a 22-year-old coming from Ligue 1 to Serie A. After all, time is money and a lot of money gives you little time.
So, what had Inter bought? Many believed his tall frame and ungainly movement meant that he had to be the next Patrick Vieira (how many times have we heard that before?) and his goal against Arsenal in the Champions League had many others believing he was Paul Pogba 2.0, a theory backed up by their friendship. Alas, he was none of these and the early season anticipation soon moved to disappointment, as the midfielder was played often in an unsuitable holding role.
Kondogbia in full flight is something to behold, as when he does pick up the ball and have space to run into, options alongside him, and more importantly the confidence, he can break forward and move the play easily 40 yards terrifying all before him. Unfortunately, as he was asked to hold position in his earlier days, this hardly happened at all.
His tactical knowledge was lacking and he was too timid in breaking up the play, so would only distribute the ball in the near vicinity, showing little courage or creativity. This came to a head against Chievo early in his first season when he looked exposed against a team with little offensive intent.
Mancini chopped and changed the midfield constantly in a bid to somehow unlock Mauro Icardi’s potential. The threesome of Gary Medel sitting deep, Marcelo Brozovic in an offensive position and Kondogbia being allowed to operate as a box to box player suddenly saw him look like the player all of Milan hoped he could be. He was now receiving the ball after play had been broken up and could take off his shackles, run forward and look for the wide men.
Unfortunately, injuries and personnel changes in the first XI saw this threesome only become a fleeting thing. After this under both Mancini and Frank de Boer, he returned to his sporadic best.
It is Roberto Gagliardini’s arrival from Atalanta that has seen Kondogbia come into his own. Stefano Pioli has been exemplary since his arrival and his biggest strength has been recognising where and how his players can influence the collective. The Frenchman has blossomed alongside the Italian, whilst Joao Mario or Ever Banega have taken up the Trequartista role.
Gagliardini has been incredible in both breaking up play and moving the ball forward, even starting to add goals to his catalogue. Kondogbia has, rather than play deep and constrained, imitated the role his midfield partner has taken on, becoming more forceful in the transitions. His confidence is up, his runs are energetic and his range of passing has been exceptional. Against Atalanta this weekend, the partnership looked tight and highly effective.
Pioli, it seems has done with Gagliardini and Kondogbia what he has done with much of the team. He has found pockets of partnerships whose skill-sets complement each other and, in the case of the midfield, the knock-on effect is that Banega can get further forward and pose an attacking threat with Icardi. The Frenchman is still young, but his Italian journey has finally taken off now he can brush all the comparisons off his shoulders and operate as an individual – the real Kondogbia.