COMMENT By Seye Omidiora Follow on Twitter
When Torino play host to Inter Milan at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino on Sunday, one intriguing subplot will be the presence of two left-backs who, years ago, probably didn’t foresee themselves playing in that position, and subsequently making it their own.
While Ola Aina stars for the Turin outfit in the more attacking role at wing-back, Kwadwo Asamoah represents a more experienced campaigner in a left-back berth in a conventional back four these days, having been converted during his time with Juventus.
The Ghana international has featured on the left side of defence for so long that it’s become hard to remembering him as a box-to-box midfielder who shone through in his first few years in the Italian top flight with Udinese and, briefly, at Juventus.
Aina’s development on the left is relatively embryonic.
Admittedly, he did make a few appearances at left-back in the Chelsea youth teams and notably made his first start for the senior side in a Carabao Cup fourth round defeat by West Ham United, but deploying him there was only ever a stop-gap option in England.
In Italy, by contrast, Walter Mazzarri has deemed fit to employ Aina on the left for an extended spell during the wideman's loan stint in Turin.
He was mainly used on the right at Hull City, starting 42 of the Tigers' 44 games last term, but has adapted well to another unfamiliar role this term.
Notably, however, a large percentage of the naturally right-footed player’s noteworthy performances halfway through his year-long spell with the Maroons have come on the opposite flank.
His adaptability has been admirable, so much so that Torino are reportedly considering making the move permanent.
Asamoah, for his part, has excelled in his first year in the blue and black stripes of Inter.
Following Spalletti’s gaffe on the opening day of the season to deploy Dalbert at left-back in a narrow 1-0 defeat by Sassuolo; Kojo has come on in leaps and bounds to limit the Brazilian to only three more appearances.
In truth, he suffered a dip in form in late November through to mid-December, but has been exemplary for a greater part of the campaign. He’s taken these praiseworthy displays up a notch in recent games, delivering some eye-catching outings since a return to form before the turn of the year.
The meeting with Napoli in December will, unfortunately, be remembered for the disgusting racial abuse Kalidou Koulibaly endured, making it easy to forget the tenacious Ghanaian’s display, which was outstanding in his side’s 1-0 win.
Since then, he’s followed that display up with equally good outings away at Empoli and in last weekend’s goalless home draw against Sassuolo. Before the aforementioned three, he’d given arguably his best display of the season against Udinese – a game Inter’s 1-0 win didn’t tell the full story.
Asamoah was highly effective against the Little Zebras, rarely losing his individual battles, contributing in defence when the away side did break forward and was effective in the final third as well.
The veteran’s performance against Carlo Ancelotti’s side, though, will expectedly receive more column inches owing to the enormity of the encounter and the fact he was able to hold his own against the division's second best side.
The 30-year-old is now a seasoned left-sider, and his tactical understanding of that position clearly eclipses Aina's knowledge.
Be that as it may, the younger wideman is no slouch either, and by sheer numbers alone, runs Asamoah close in interceptions and clearances per game, while making more tackles per game than his more-experienced counterpart.
Iheanacho 20, Iwobi 21, Onyekuru 19, Ndidi 20, Simon 21, Aina 20...If I was a true Nigerian I'd be getting pretty excited right about now!— Ed Dove (@EddyDove) May 23, 2017
The Inter man has completed more dribbles, but the Torino wing-back slightly edges it in percentage of duels won. Aina has shown better quality in the final third with more big chances created, and consequently has one assist to his name. Asamoah has none.
In all fairness, playing at wing-back gives the Nigerian more license to go forward, so maybe it’s no surprise that he’s got better attacking numbers.
In spite of that, Kojo gives more balance to the side, and is more consistent than the younger man.
Sunday evening’s encounter sees Torino’s aggressive approach tested against Inter’s control, and while their prospects for the season will dominate the attention, the two African wideman-each at very different stages in their career-represents a fascinating subplot.