New Blue: Uche Ikpeazu

Let’s have a deeper look at our first signing of the summer – and our first as a Championship club!

Length of contract3 years
Former clubsHearts, Cambridge, Blackpool (loan), Port Vale (loan), Crewe (loan x3), Doncaster (loan), Watford, Didcot Town (loan), Reading
Professional appearances (goals)181 (35)
Championship appearances (goals)0 (0)
National teamUganda (1 call-up, 0 caps)

First things first, it’s pronounced OO-CHAY IK-PEE-AY-ZOO. Oh, and for what it’s worth, his full name is Karl Anthony Uchechukwu Mubiru Ikpeazu. He’s also the fifth strongest player on FIFA 20, meaning we now own two of the top five.

Anyway, onto the less important stuff…

It’s worth pointing out that you really shouldn’t use the rabidly tribal Twitter reaction of their former club’s fans as any kind barometer of a player’s quality. Millwall supporters thought Fred Onyedinma was useless and were openly glad to see the back of him – enough said. If you sift through the silly stuff, you’ll find some reasoned takes – and the vibe I got from those is that Uche Ikpeazu has what it takes to make the grade at this level; it just needs the right person to unlock it and maximise his potential. Well, we have a guy for that.

The Harrow-born front man has all the tools to become the ultimate target man for us. A hybrid of Adebayo Akinfenwa and Alex Samuel? Quite possibly, yes. A Samuel-esque work rate underpins his resolute hold-up play, while he’s able to make darting runs into space across the width of the final third thanks to his quick acceleration.

As for his aerial ability, that’s a given and could benefit us twofold: Firstly, his pace means that once he’s won and controlled the initial long ball, he can carry it higher up the pitch rather than lay it off to a team-mate by default – and being able to receive it slightly deeper than Akinfenwa might work in favour of Joe Jacobson, who, given the Championship’s higher tempo, may sit and pass from a bit deeper himself to reduce the amount of tracking back he has to do. Secondly, if David Wheeler is no longer the focal point for long balls, it ought to allow him more freedom to make runs into the box and have a few more shots – his 1.3/90 last season was the lowest of any Wycombe forward.

“On my day … I can be a handful,” the new man said in his welcome interview, “and I need to make that every day. I like to hold up the ball, bring my team-mates into play and give my team-mates confidence, get them up the pitch and just occupy two centre-halves and … put the ball in the back of the net as well.” If anyone can make him tick with the regularity we’ll need in a likely relegation scrap, it’s Gareth Ainsworth and Richard Dobson. It’s pretty obvious why he’s been on our radar for a fair while.

Ikpeazu may not have been prolific at Hearts (ten in 55 appearances in all competitions), but making a snap judgement based just on those numbers is very naive. You have to ask questions. What his role in the side? Looking at his highlights reel (you might want to mute it unless you enjoy the ‘in Yates’s at 3pm on a Wednesday’ vibe) from his time north of the border, he was as much creator as scorer – reflected by his nine assists – and found himself operating as a lone striker in several different systems, or in a front two. While that may suggest versatility, I think there’s a case for our near-perennial use of a 4-3-3 breeding consistency in players.

He said he likes to bring his team-mates into play; well, he should enjoy having a goal-scoring winger on either side. Let’s not forget Onyedinma notched six league goals at a rate of 0.5/90 last season, while Wheeler racked up 21 in 46 in all competitions for Exeter in 2016/17, earning a move to QPR for his first taste of Championship football. Ideally, all three will contribute equally in a scoring sense.

What was the quality of his chances like and how well was he executing them? Well, the shot data isn’t available and I’m not going to go back and watch 62 hours’ worth of action, but you can tell from the ‘eye test’ that he’s a natural finisher. No one’s pretending the Championship isn’t a dramatic step up from League Two or that he’s going to enjoy the same kind of space or time in front of goal, but he’s been tucking them away with great precision and invention since his Cambridge days (skip to 3:37 below for the best of the bunch).

What other factors were there in his ostensibly unspectacular spell with Hearts? Well, the 25-year-old underwent foot surgey at the end of 2018 and missed the best part of three-and-a-half months. That came after a promising start saw him score one and assist three in his first six games. After he returned, he picked up a series of knocks which can hardly have been conducive to regaining his rhythm. The early months of his second season weren’t entirely injury-free, while Daniel Stendel replaced Craig Levein as manager that December. All in all, his time at Tynecastle wasn’t defined by stability.

Let’s leave the past behind and focus on what he can bring to the challenge that awaits. Polishing up rough diamonds is Gareth and Dobbo’s speciality – some people seem to forget that – and you don’t pay a rare fee for a player if you can’t visualise the finished article. As for the lazy ‘He didn’t do anything in Scotland’ refrain, here are just a few names who hardly set the Scottish Premiership alight yet went on to excel in the Championship (and beyond): Daryl Murphy, Martyn Waghorn, Teemu Pukki…

Trust the process.

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