Rubbing my eyes in disbelief after an emphatic win over the weekend, I heard a knock on my front door. As soon as I cracked the door ajar, a white envelope was thrust into my hand…A deep voice boomed, “You’ve been summoned to appear before a court of the West Ham faithful!” Oh dear!
I shall freely stand before my peers and be judged for my onerous and negative views of Angelo Ogbonna. I accept with shame, the verdict bestowed upon me and will gleefully take my licks…for Signor Angelo has spread his wings and his heavenly glow is starting to shine bright.
When West Ham signed Ogbonna in the summer of 2015, there was an expectation that the Italian international from Juventus would bring style and fortitude to our suspect defence. We got excited about the introduction of yet another Italian who might wear our shirt with passion and flair. We knew the quality was there and indeed there were glimpses of that higher plain but overall we were left underwhelmed and flat along a mired valley floor.
Perhaps it was more a reflection of the viral infection that had spread throughout the whole squad but my attention was soon drawn to his substandard performances and numerous errors. In a defensive line that leaked goals and lacked cohesion when transplanted into the new fishbowl, he and others were being asked to swim in custard without any jam to keep us sweet.
Many the time when I would cover my face with my hands, trying to block out what I had just seen whilst whispering; “Che cosa fai Angelo?” (What are you doing Angelo?) Believe me, that question was rather more filled with Italian expletives than I would like to repeat. He continued to be the conundrum; desperate, naive and floundering whilst housing the potential energy that fathered the esteem and confidence of former Italian internationals. I prayed for shades of Baresi, Cannavaro or Gentile but his delivery seemed lost on the sorting office floor and all we got was second class.
The hospital ward ten that had become our squad was playing with patients in need of treatment, wanting of therapy and necessitating counsel. All heads had dropped…even those still battling, such as Winston Reid were suffering whilst compensating for Angelo and his tragic operatic stars that were free falling back to earth and spiralling out of control.
So, what’s happened and why is our angel of Cassino now delivering performances that fill our bowls with confidence and even sparing us from the depths of defeatist despair? Like his birthplace near Monte Cassino, Italy, which witnessed heavy conflict during WWII between Allied and German forces and rose from the ashes, so he has risen from the chaos to bring order to a team that has evidently been taking its medicine.
He, along with his teammates, appear to be fitter and more motivated. He knows the script and has visualised the game plan. His positioning and interchange with the other back line warriors has finally matured whilst springboarding from a goal against Man City, he has become the player we always hoped he would…a defensive Godzilla to battle against any invading Mothra.
Over recent weeks I have witnessed as certain teammates have led the line and proclaimed; “This is how we do it!” It seems apparent that the light switch has flicked on and so he has realised too… ”Ahhh, this is how they do it!”… Così Fan Tutte indeed! Game by game his performances have improved, easing our sobbing eyes by peeling away previous layers of mediocrity to reveal a steely core robed in composure, guile and the predictive high score of a mystic meg foretelling the winning lottery numbers.
A lot of credit has to go to David Moyes and the coaching team who have been able to draw a line in the sand with a misfiring team under Bilic and like modern parental guardianship have set immovable boundaries that players dare not force to yield.
When any teacher stands before the class, there are given starting positions that each student must adopt. They must be willing to listen and take on board the knowledge being imparted, they must not quibble nor disrupt the tutelage and above all else demonstrate a commitment to do the very best they can when the starting pistol fires with a bang. If only we could expect all classrooms in the land to be so.
In the new Moyes era, it is evident that some players have adopted those starting positions and have committed themselves to the cause. Ogbonna is one of the few good men that has listened to the evidence and has handled the horrible truth of his earlier performances, has changed his ways and is now becoming the model pupil…a template for all others to base themselves upon.
Overall, Ogbonna’s tactical awareness and positioning is night and day from what is once was or where it had slumped to. Whilst there was a possible softening in the previous regime’s standards, there was no justification for the exploitation of that circumstance by so many of the players. There may indeed be a growing confidence in Ogbonna and his for Moyes in return, but we are still on the rebound of a soured relationship where the bitter taste lingers.
For now, the angelic overtones he has started to sound, relieves the pressure on our lungs where we once held our breath and where detractors would encourage us to exhale. I may yet be premature with my praise for this renaissance man, but now I know his song…I shall not leap to condemn him until I clearly hear that large lady sing at the end of the final act. He has changed my opinion of his qualification to play in the Premier League and even for West Ham, who under Moyes are starting to rise out of the fire, phoenix wings a flapping and squawking encore…maestro, ancora…Ogbonna!