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Qatar 2022: Ike Ugbo ready to ‘shock’ with Canada at the World Cup

When former World Cup-bound Chelsea youngster Ike Ugbo was a kid growing up in Canada, he made mention of something to do with their national team and major tournaments were hard to come by.

“Football was not that big in Canada then,” recalls striker Ugbo, now at French Ligue 1 club Troyes. “And there wasn’t much talk about Canada’s players.

“Little things that we see in England – if there’s a World Cup around you know there’s a World Cup coming – that didn’t happen.”

 

World Cup tied Ike Ugbo played for Chelsea academy after moving to England at age nine

World Cup tied Ike Ugbo played for Chelsea academy after moving to England at age nine

Canada’s profile and prominence has now changed significantly with Ugbo being part of the squad under England coach John Herdman and that includes Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies and Lille’s Jonatan David, who have put the country back on the international football map.

In March Canada made history by qualifying for this year’s World Cup, their first since 1986, and Ugbo, 23, said: “When I went back and we qualified, and even before qualifying, you could see little things like ads in the newspapers, we are invited to events such as basketball games.

“It just goes to show that the country really stands behind the team and supports what we do.”

Ugbo, a former England youngster who briefly declared himself for Nigeria before deciding that his international future lay with Canada, added: “Once we qualified against Jamaica, you could see the tears in the players’ eyes. People were crying on the floor.

“I could see this means so much to everyone and they put so much work into it before I got to this point. I made the choice to transfer, join the group and help the team do their best in the World Cup.

“When you are young, you always watch the World Cup and dream of going to the World Cup.

Bayern Munich's Alphonso Davies (L) helped put Canada back on the international football map

 

Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies (L) helped put Canada back on the international football map

“The closer it gets, the more it gets to me, I’m actually going to a World Cup.”

London-born Ugbo moved to Canada with his family when he was three before returning to England at the age of nine.

When he was in North America and started playing football, Ugbo mostly did it for fun.

After being spotted at Chelsea academy playing for Tooting & Mitcham, he really began to understand the magnitude of what he was doing and the opportunities ahead.

‘See the players’ [around the training ground] and being a ball boy for the games when you get older,” he recalled.

“When you’re 12, you become a ball boy, you see the stadium and you realize this is a big problem and what you’re aiming for.

The 23-year-old is now with French Ligue 1 club Troyes after turning down offers from England

 

The 23-year-old is now with French Ligue 1 club Troyes after turning down offers from England

“I was a ball boy for the Chelsea vs. Arsenal 5-3, when Robin Van Persie scored a hat-trick and Chelsea vs. Barcelona when Didier Drogba scored. I think it was the best match I’ve seen.’

Ugbo played alongside Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Reece James, Mason Mount, Trevoh Chalobah, Conor Gallagher, Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori as he progressed through the Chelsea ranks, although he left for good last year after 13 years before appearing in the first team .

“It’s been a roller coaster and it’s not always a straight line to your destination,” Ugbo said.

“Everyone’s path is different and you can see that especially the players I played with, some of them, have had good ones in the Chelsea first team.

“But you came to Chelsea on your own. You have to focus on what you have to do.

Ugbo will play for Canada in Qatar this winter after making their first World Cup since 1986

 

Ugbo will play for Canada in Qatar this winter after making their first World Cup since 1986

“Of course it would have been nice to stay at Chelsea, but sometimes you go through certain things for certain reasons in life.

“My business just makes me a stronger person, a better footballer. I have to learn it that way, but it’s going in the right direction, that’s what matters most to me.’

Indeed, Ugbo’s Chelsea years were far from in vain.

Looking back now, he can reflect on some valuable lessons that have shaped his career and his time at Chelsea which laid the foundation for everything he is going through now, with his career embarking on an upward trajectory for club and country.

A prolific goalscorer and multiple youth level trophy winner, Ugbo saw how he felt he looked like a boy playing men’s football in the Championship and League One as he revisited clips of himself during his first loan spell away from the Chelsea ‘bubble’ at Barnsley , MK Dons and Scunthorpe.

“After my third loan spell, the second year I was loaned out when I played at Scunthorpe, I went back to Chelsea mid-season in January and then I had time to think about the loans,” he said.

Players cheered with Canadian flag after beating Jamaica in Toronto

 

Players cheered with Canadian flag after beating Jamaica in Toronto

“Have good conversations about why I don’t score the same as when I was at Chelsea, why don’t I do the same, things like that.

“After that I had four months, five months to prepare myself to just rebuild my career because the direction it was going was not what was planned.

“It went lower in the leagues and I had to start back and go with a fresh mindset of ‘I’m just going to rebuild my name’.”

The open-minded Ugbo enlisted the help of a psychologist, admitting that “going from such high confidence, winning cups to square one in two months, really touched me,” to getting to the bottom of “why the results aren’t working.” more to come’.

It was also around that time that he started working on and adding to the routine of extras – ‘the little things you’re not asked for’ – on the training pitch and gym that still serves him today and a ‘second nature ‘has become’.

Rather than try his luck with a new loan from the Football League, Ugbo went abroad for a fresh start with a fresh approach and thrived.

His last two loan spells, while still a Chelsea player, have been fruitful with Belgium’s Roda and Cercle Bruge. He scored 30 goals in 63 games.

Ugbo played alongside Reece James (L) and Mason Mount (R) as he rose through the Blues ranks

 

Ugbo played alongside Reece James (L) and Mason Mount (R) as he rose through the Blues ranks

Ugbo then joined Genk on a permanent basis at the start of last season before moving to Troyes on loan, where he scored five goals in 11 starts, his last three confidence-building goals against Monaco, Lille and Paris Saint-Germain.

“I believe I can play at the highest level, but when I can score against the big teams, that’s that great feeling,” he said.

“Now it’s just maintaining and performing regularly to achieve what I want in my career.”

After an impressive adjustment to life abroad and all that Ugbo has discovered is a football world outside of England.

“It used to be like Prem is the target,” he said. “Now it’s still the target, but I feel like it’s working abroad.

“I wouldn’t mind staying abroad and finishing my career. I don’t want to just go [back to England] for the sake of going, I want to go to the club that wants me and I can play.

“Now I start every season the same way I do with Roda, I’m just going to show what I can do. The environment doesn’t really matter, as long as I do my job well, I think my performances will show that.’

Ugbo speaks with Chelsea and England legend Frank Lampard during his stint at the London club

 

Ugbo speaks with Chelsea and England legend Frank Lampard during his stint at the London club

How at home Ugbo feels abroad was underlined again this summer when the opportunities to return to England arose, but instead preferred to join Troyes permanently.

And with the huge opportunity for Canada looming in Qatar, continuity was key.

“That’s why I made that decision,” he confirmed.

“It was hard to say no to England, but I think it was the right decision. When I came here [to Troyes] I really started to enjoy football again. This was a top five league, that’s what I always wanted, we did well towards the end of the season and I performed well.

“I need to have a rhythm to play and achieve goals to go into the World Cup, with a lot of confidence and doing what I’m good at.

“It’s very important for Canada to finally get back to a World Cup after so many years, so that’s why I had to see where I need to be to go.

“Personally I think we will do well and shock a lot of teams with the qualities we have.

“Even though we have a young team, we still have experience playing in the major leagues in Europe.

“If we all put that together, I think we’ll surprise a lot of people and what they expect from Canada.”

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Source: Dailymail

 

 

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