Ike Ugbo believes he is in the perfect place to shine – and is ready to prove it against West Ham.
The Genk striker is positive his decision to leave boyhood club Chelsea will pay off.
He took the decision to quit Stamford Bridge in the summer, moving to the Cegeka Arena for around five million euros, having been at the European champions since he was nine.
Now, Ugbo returns to London for the first time since leaving the Blues for Genk’s Europa League clash with the Hammers on Thursday to show what he is made of.
“Genk is the perfect place, people will know exactly what you are capable of – especially if you get a lot of goals,” he told the PA news agency.
“Being in Belgium is a good path to get to the top because it’s not always easy to get into the top five leagues and be a main striker. It’s a tricky one.
“This is a big game to show exactly what I have learnt in the last few years, all the loans I’ve been on, and that I’m not the same player I was when I was 18.
“You don’t know what can happen next from this, it’s a big game, personally, being in London. All the family will be there, for sure. West Ham will probably be our toughest challenge.
“I watched the Premier League every weekend, I grew up watching it, and West Ham are a big team. It is a special game.”
The 23-year-old had interest from Besiktas and Feyenoord but the lure of returning to Belgium, having scored 16 goals for Cercle Brugge last season, proved too strong.
Two goals in two starts and eight substitute appearances represents a solid start, although Genk sit sixth in the Jupiler League after Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at Charleroi, where Ugbo was a late substitute.
“I want a better season than last, especially developing my game because now I’m in a better team to last year,” said the forward, who scored the winner against Anderlecht on his debut in August.
𝗜𝗸𝗲́ 𝗨𝗴𝗯𝗼, met de 1-0. 🔥— KRC Genk (@KRCGenkofficial) August 29, 2021
“I’m at a top team so maybe here I will get more chances, clearer chances, when I have to score.
“Then at the end of the season I can see if I’ve done better, not just by the number of goals, but how many starts I get and what I’ve done for the team.”
While at Chelsea, Ugbo won successive FA Youth Cups in 2016 and 2017 and was part of a staggering conveyor belt of talent at Stamford Bridge.
He counts Reece James, Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Trevoh Chalobah, Tammy Abraham, Marc Guehi, Fikayo Tomori and Conor Gallagher as former team-mates.
Yet both Ugbo and Abraham moved to Europe this summer, Abraham joining Roma, to add to the growing number of young English players abroad, including Jude Bellingham at Borussia Dortmund and Noni Madueke at PSV.
“When I first went abroad, I’d been to three English teams in the Championship and League One. I felt like I needed to change something and start again,” said Ugbo, having spent time at Barnsley, MK Dons and Scunthorpe.
“That’s why I went to Roda in the Dutch second division (on loan in 2019-20). I needed to build confidence and have a platform to make my steps.
“After it worked, I didn’t want to change it. I wanted to make a step up so I went to Cercle last year.
- Barnsley (loan)
- MK Dons (loan)
- Scunthorpe (loan)
- Roda (loan)
- Cercle Brugge (loan)
“If it’s still working and I’m progressing then why change it?
“After the loan spells I wanted to stay somewhere longer than one year so I decided it was my last loan. I felt like it was best for me to call somewhere home.
“You just keep the cycle of going on loan again and after a while it’s not a great feeling, especially when you’d love to play in the first team for Chelsea – but you’re just going back on loan.
“But it was the best thing at Chelsea, winning trophies and playing with top players. It’s where I learnt my foundations, they taught me a lot, I was there from nine so I will always have a lot of love for Chelsea. It was a privilege being there.”
Ugbo has also pledged his international future to Nigeria – he qualifies through dad Edwin – with the paperwork currently going through.
He won the Toulon Tournament with England in 2017 but feels the Super Eagles will give him a better chance of fulfilling his ambitions.
“I know I could wait but I felt, when there are big competitions coming up, I want to make my name,” he said. “Who knows, I could end up at the World Cup next year.
“Dad always wanted me to play for Nigeria because that’s where he was born and brought up. That’s one thing he would love.”
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