Angelo Ogbonna: 'West Ham is like a community, like a family'

  • Ogbonna speaks exclusively to 90min about life at West Ham United
  • Italian centre-back a consistent performer for over nine years and key to Europa Conference League success in 2023
  • The 35-year-old reveals affection he feels for West Ham's supporters and the teammates who have made a huge impression on him

Angelo Ogbonna is into his ninth season at West Ham
Angelo Ogbonna is into his ninth season at West Ham / 90min

"I never expected to remain here for so long," a grinning Angelo Ogbonna admits about his time at West Ham United.

The 35-year-old is into his ninth season in east London, having initially signed a four-year contract when joining from Juventus in 2015, and remains an integral part of David Moyes's squad despite his advancing years.

Ogbonna has always been a dependable figure for West Ham, renowned for his ability to read the game and for his crunch in the tackle. The Italian's strength of character was epitomised by his brilliant comeback from a career-threatening ACL injury sustained in November 2021 that saw him spring up from the treatment table to aid the Hammers' Europa Conference League triumph last season.

That stunning June night in Prague, which saw West Ham end their 43-year wait for a trophy by beating Fiorentina 2-1, was the "icing on the cake" as far as Ogbonna's concerned - the Italian having played a key role in the club's ascension from Premier League strugglers to European regulars.

"I remember we were in the relegation battle, and we played against Chelsea. Yarmolenko's goal was a very important one for us. That was one of the matches where our luck started to change," Ogbonna exclusively tells 90min, reflecting on the club's recent upward trajectory.

"The growth of the club has been exponential, every sector of the club, every part of it has grown in a very important way. West Ham is not only an English club now, it's also an important club at the international level. It's seen in almost the whole world and recognised in the whole world.

"Winning the Conference League was the icing on the cake for a club like West Ham. It's been an important path for a club that's always been big and that can still grow more."

The optimism around West Ham is understandable when you take a look at the current playing squad. Lucas Paqueta plies his trade at London Stadium, alongside the equally talented Mohammed Kudus, while Edson Alvarez and Jarrod Bowen are two other hugely important players who wouldn't look out of place in any top side.

Angelo Ogbonna enjoys West Ham's Conference League celebrations
Angelo Ogbonna enjoys West Ham's Conference League celebrations / James Gill - Danehouse/GettyImages

The Hammers are in contention for another top-six Premier League finish, topped a tricky-looking Europa League group containing SC Freiburg and Olympiacos to advance straight through to the last 16, have beaten Tottenham and Arsenal on the road this season, and have comfortably dispatched other 'big six' opposition in Chelsea and Manchester United.

But things haven't always been this way at West Ham.

The club have struggled for consistency in recent decades, dropping out of the Premier League on two occasions, and it's only during Ogbonna's time at the club that the tide appears to have turned - three top-seven finishes in the last seven seasons testament to the progress that has been made.

The one constant, from Ogbonna's perspective, has always been the feeling of unity at West Ham - a bond that unites the club's players and supporters even when things aren't going well on the field.

"I feel that the difference between West Ham and other clubs is that the club is like a community, like a family," Ogbonna says. "I see them as a group of friends that don't have enough free time like before to spend time together, and the only moment they have free is to go and see West Ham play. It's being loyal to your friendships. This is a thing that has always moved me.

"As you grow up, everyone has different responsibilities, everyone has their own families, but there's still one thing in common that keeps you attached, and that is West Ham.

"Seeing all our supporters on the streets, screaming our names. It's something that I will always keep with me," he adds, referencing the club's open-top bus parade that saw over 70,000 fans line the streets to celebrate West Ham's European success.

Angelo Ogbonna
Ogbonna is still going strong at 35 / Catherine Ivill/GettyImages

Ogbonna's first season at West Ham, during the 2015/16 season, was the club's last at the Boleyn Ground - a place the veteran centre-back refers to as "amazing" - and it was immediately clear to supporters that then-manager Slaven Bilic had struck gold in the transfer market.

Indeed, just two months prior to his arrival, Ogbonna had been on Juventus' bench for the Champions League final against Barcelona, so it wasn't a huge surprise that he was able to settle into his new surroundings so quickly.

"I was always fascinated by the Premier League, maybe because I felt I would be a very good fit here," Ogbonna recalls. "At Juventus, I needed to play more, so me and my agent made the decision to come to the Premier League, and I chose West Ham. And here we are, I never expected to remain here for so long!

"Bilic is the one who brought me here so I owe him a lot. Then came Pellegrini, with his experience, after winning trophies with Manchester City and being at Real Madrid. He tried to bring a bit of his international football. Then came Moyes, who brought discipline. I have to say that the statistics are still talking for him, he's given us so much."

Ogbonna has certainly made a lasting impression on West Ham's supporters over the past nine years and, by his own admission, the feeling is mutual. But of all the teammates to have donned claret and blue, who has left the biggest impression?

"Paqueta, Payet, also Lanzini," he says. "They are players who always made an impression on me. Paqueta is an extraordinary player, world class level. I always tell him, when you want to play, it's like if you turn on the PlayStation. And the same thing happened with Payet. When Payet wanted to, he would turn on the PlayStation. I'll make a bold comparison, but he was like our Zidane. He was the leader of the midfield, the one who made the team click. He had a football intelligence where he could read the moments during the match perfectly."