Big interview: Hearts’ Uche Ikpeazu on jab to cure knee injury and his meeting with Gerard Pique
Hearts striker Uche Ikpeazu has taken an injection to alleviate knee pain and leave him, in his own words, ready to attack the new season. He spent most of the summer working with a fitness trainer in Northampton to improve his fitness for his return to Edinburgh.
The injection cured a problem which hindered the 24-year-old towards the end of last season. Ikpeazu admitted he could not perform properly because of discomfort in the knee, which has now been rectified. He should play his first pre-season match on Saturday when Hearts face Glenavon in Northern Ireland.
“I’m looking forward to it. Last season was up and down,” said the Englishman, speaking at Hearts’ training base near Dublin. “Based on the fact I was out for four months [with a broken foot], I did well but I know I can do better. Much better.
“I’m very hard on myself and towards the end of last season I just didn’t think I was playing well. I know why – because I was playing with an injury. My body has healed now, I feel strong and I’m ready to go. I’m ready to attack the season.
“It’s difficult not being 100 per cent. You’re going into games knowing there’s something not right with your body. You’re having to fight through the pain, but I wouldn’t have changed that. I wanted to help the team in the league and cups. I do that for the gaffer, my team-mates and for the fans. There were a lot of games and a lot of discomfort but that’s in the past now.”
Ikpeazu’s Instagram posts illustrate his work ethic during the close season, which was spent at his mother’s house to use nearby fitness coach Joe Power. “I have a PT who I work with. During the summer, I stay at my mum’s house in Northampton. I’ve been working with him for three years and I’ve improved every year,” explained the forward.
“He does stuff in the gym and outside strength and conditioning work. I like to post my video and show people what I’m doing. That’s just my character. When I do have a good season, people will know it’s no coincidence. Hard work pays off and that’s just my mentality.
“It’s just been about getting my body right. My PT knows the problems I’ve had with my knee. He knows my body quite well and is able to give me tips. He knows what he’s doing and he’s got me feeling really good. Credit to the staff at Hearts as well. The knee was bothering me towards the end of last season and even during the summer. I’ve got it corrected now.”
A seven-day holiday in Los Angeles and Miami saw the player pictured with Barcelona superstar Gerard Pique. “He saw me and pulled me. He said: ‘Uche, can I have a picture?’ joked Ikpeazu. “We were on the same flight. He was very down to earth, very humble and cool. His is the level you aspire to play at. Going up against him would be a dream.
“Holidays are good and fun but at the end of the day this is my job. This is how I get paid and how I’m able to go on holiday. My football comes first. I got my holiday out of the way and the next thing was getting my body right. I’ve done that.”
He returned in time to see Hearts reinforce their attack with the signing of Northern Ireland’s Conor Washington. Scotland’s Steven Naismith is likely to follow next month. “I remember playing against Conor at Peterborough and he scored a lot of goals there. Hopefully he can add that to the squad. There is competition but we all have a common goal – to win and progress,” said Ikpeazu.
He doesn’t complain but the giant striker is bound to be grateful for the help. When fit, he spent much of last season shouldering the attacking burden as a lone forward. “I can play in any way,” he stressed. “I can play as part of a two up front or as one up front. I can play long-ball football and I can play with the ball into my feet. I’m very versatile.
“I feel really good physically and that’s the main thing. I know exactly what I can do when I’m in control of my body. I’m relishing the season and looking forward to it.
“When I first came to Hearts, this is how I felt. When I came back from my injury I worked hard and felt good but then there were little breakdowns. It’s because I put in so much work to get back in shape. Maybe I rushed back and it caught up with me. This is the first time in a while where I’ve felt ready to go.”