Angelo Ogbonna says playing pain-free has been the main reason behind his fine form for West Ham United.
A year ago this month, the Italian underwent successful surgery to fix a long-standing and debilitating knee injury which he had played through for the majority of his professional career.
Now fully recovered, Ogbonna is fitter than he has been in years and the Hammers are reaping the rewards, with the 29-year-old playing every minute of the Club’s last 23 matches in all competitions.
If you are prepared mentally, you can perform to your best physically
“I feel very good,” he confirmed. “When I am fit I am prepared to play every game. Of course, I feel a little bit tired sometimes, but everything is mental, so if you are prepared mentally, you can perform to your best physically.
“I am definitely benefitting from having the operation on my knee, because I needed that surgery. Everybody knows it was an injury I had for a long time and they advised me to have the surgery, so I had it done and it has really helped me.
“Since I had the surgery, our head physiotherapist Dominic Rogan has worked with me many times on my rehabilitation and he helped me to do the things right and get myself ready to play at 100 per cent.”
Ogbonna has arguably been West Ham’s most-consistent defender this season, ranking first in clearances made, joint-first in shots blocked, second in interceptions, third in aerial battles won and third in pass-completion percentage.
While he has been admirably consistent, helping the Hammers to collect 20 points from their last 12 Premier League matches, the No21 is demanding more, aided by the ‘discipline’ instilled by manager David Moyes.
“It’s good but it’s not enough because we’re looking to get as many points as we can. Now I think we are in a positive mood.
“When the team was doing really bad, we changed the manager and he has brought a lot of energy and a lot of positive things, but the most important thing he brought was discipline because with discipline, you can build whatever you want.
“Every manager has his type of method, but the important thing was the discipline, because with this you can train harder or train less, but you know what you have to do.”
When Moyes was appointed in November, Ogbonna likened the new manager’s methods to those which he enjoyed during two seasons with Italian champions Juventus. Three months on and the centre-half’s opinion has not changed.
“He is not just like an Italian manager, but like a European manager. Today, everything in football is improving and we are doing lots of things – tactics, positional work, technical work, running – and in the Premier League this is essential, because it is the hardest league in the world and, if you are not fit, you cannot go ahead.
“We improved a lot in the last month or two. We changed the shape [to three-at-the-back], but it’s not just that. We run much better than before, not only in distance but in the quality of our running.
“Every game has its story and every game is different, so we prepare for every game differently, to give ourselves the best chance of winning or drawing. Even when we struggled with injuries, we found the right shape with the right players in the right positions.”