Ike Ugbo thinks he’s in the perfect place to shine – and is ready to prove it against West Ham.
The Genk striker is confident his decision to leave boyhood club Chelsea will pay off.
He made the decision to leave Stamford Bridge this summer, moving to the Cegeka Arena for around five million euros, having been European champions since the age of 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’s made of.
“Genk is the perfect place, people will know exactly what you are capable of, especially if you score 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 tricky.
“It’s a great game to show exactly what I’ve learned over the past few years, all the loans I’ve been on, and that I’m not the same player I was when I was 18 anymore.
“You don’t know what can happen next, it’s a big game, personally, to be in London. The whole family will be there for sure. West Ham will probably be our toughest challenge.
Being in Belgium is a good way to reach the top because it’s not always easy to get into the top five leagues and be a main striker.
“I watched the Premier League every weekend, I grew up watching it and West Ham are a great team. It’s a special game.”
The 23-year-old was interested in Besiktas and Feyenoord but the lure of returning to Belgium, having scored 16 goals for Cercle Brugge last season, proved too strong.
Two goals from two starts and eight substitute appearances is a good start, although Genk sit sixth in the Jupiler League after Saturday’s 2-0 loss at Charleroi, where Ugbo was a late substitute.
“I want a better season than last, especially to develop my game because now I’m in a better team than last year,” said the striker, who scored the winning goal against Anderlecht on his debut in August. .
“I’m in a top team, so maybe here I’ll have 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 by the number of starts I get and what I’ve done for the team. “
At Chelsea, Ugbo won successive FA Youth Cups in 2016 and 2017 and was part of an impressive treadmill 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 teammates.
Still, both Ugbo and Abraham moved to Europe this summer, with 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 overseas I had been in three English teams in the Championship and League One. I felt like I had to change something and start over,” Ugbo said, after having spent time in 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 gain confidence and have a platform to take my steps.
“After it worked, I didn’t want to change it. I wanted to take a step forward so I went to Cercle last year.
- Barnsley (loan)
- MK Dons (loan)
- Scunthorpe (loan)
- Roda (loan)
- Circle Bruges (loan)
“If it’s still working and I’m making progress then why change it?”
“After the loan spells, I wanted to stay somewhere longer than a year, so I decided this was my last loan. I felt like it was better for me to call somewhere home .
“You just continue the cycle of going back on loan and after a while it’s not a great feeling, especially when you would like to play in the Chelsea first team – but you just come back on loan.
“But that was the best thing at Chelsea, winning trophies and playing with the best players. That’s where I learned my basics, they taught me a lot, I was there for nine years so I will always have a lot of love for Chelsea. It was a privilege to be there.”
Ugbo has also pledged his international future in Nigeria – he qualifies through his father Edwin – with the paperwork ongoing.
He won the Toulon Tournament with England in 2017 but believes the Super Eagles will give him a better chance of realizing his ambitions.
“I know I could wait but I felt that when there are big competitions coming up I want to make a name for myself,” he said. “Who knows, I might end up at the World Cup next year.
“Dad always wanted me to play for Nigeria because that’s where he was born and raised. That’s something he would love.
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