Hearts new boy Uche Ikpeazu ‘unplayable on his day’

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Cambridge analytics is a source of controversy right now. Thankfully, gathering information on the town’s centre-forward doesn’t involve any illegal snooping or Facebook harvesting. Uche Ikpeazu is leaving Cambridge United for Hearts this summer and intelligence on him suggests he could cause uproar all on his own.

He is 6ft 3in tall and described as powerful, aggressive and intimidating when running at opponents. Perhaps this is a striker Craig Levein, the Hearts manager, will appreciate more than anyone. Having signed bustling forwards like Mark de Vries and Jon Daly in his time, Levein will hope Ikpeazu is of the same mould after capturing him on a pre-contract agreement.

Uche Ikpeazu has scored 14 goals for Cambridge this term

Uche Ikpeazu has scored 14 goals for Cambridge this term

Data on the Englishman shows 14 goals in 42 games for League Two Cambridge so far this season. He scored eight in 36 appearances last year and is still maturing at the age of 23. Born in Harrow to Nigerian and Ugandan parents, he is portrayed as a young man on an upward trajectory who is hungry to improve.

Moving to Tynecastle is the next step and one former team-mate of Ikpeazu believes he is perfect for Hearts. Ex-Rangers midfielder Jamie Ness, now a key component of Plymouth Argyle’s bid for promotion to the English Championship, played with the striker at Crewe Alexandra in 2015. He is eager to see how his old ally fares in Scotland.

“It will be a really good move for him and he will fit in very well. I think he will do well in Scottish football,” Ness, pictured inset, told the Evening News. “He’s a big, powerful lad. When I played with him he was very young and raw but, on his day, he was unplayable. He’s got that power and pace, allied to his physical ability. He’s also a decent finisher, so he was always difficult for our opponents whenever he played for us.

“He is very good with his back to goal. With the size of him, he can hold the ball in and shield it from defenders. Also, when he gets turned, gets a head of steam up and starts running at you, it’s difficult to stop him. He will be an interesting signing and it will be good to see how he does up in Scotland.

Jamie Ness was team-mate of Ikpeazu at Crewe

Jamie Ness was team-mate of Ikpeazu at Crewe

“He is an out-and-out No.9 – big and physical. He likes to get the ball into his feet, run at people and put himself about a bit. He is a really good lad who is very keen to learn. He’s always trying to work on his game so I think it will be a really good move both for him and Hearts.”

Ikpeazu was only 20 when he and Ness shared a dressing-room but even then his raw ability was evident. “I haven’t played with him for a few years now but it was clear when he was younger that he definitely had potential,” continued the Scot. “I think he’s still young enough that he can improve more when he goes up to Hearts. They have some experienced players like Kyle Lafferty and Steven Naismith so it would be good to see how he does working with them.”

Analysing a player and dissecting his character are things Hearts and Levein prioritise with every potential new recruit. Ness does not expect any issues after hearing Ikpeazu agreed to a two-year contract at Tynecastle.

“At Crewe, he was very young but he was always asking questions. He always looked to find ways to better himself. Uche is an upbeat character and good to have around the dressing-room. He was always one of the ones trying to make himself better and now he’s taken that on by looking to move to Hearts.”

The transfer gives Ikpeazu another chance to establish himself at the top level. He failed to make the grade as a teenager down south with both Reading and Watford, hence loan moves to places like Didcot Town, Crewe and Port Vale. He landed at Cambridge United two years ago and quickly became a favourite amongst the locals.

“It’s difficult down here,” admitted Ness. “I know Uche was at Watford and once you leave a big club like that you’re basically starting from scratch again. I’ve noticed he’s notched a few goals for Cambridge over the last couple of seasons. He’s probably needed that chance to go somewhere, play games regularly and develop.

“It’s probably a good time for him in his career to make a step up. He’s doing that by going to Hearts. He’ll be playing in front of bigger crowds each week. It will be good to watch him and see how he gets on up there.”

Levein will view Ikpeazu as something of a project; a player he can hone and develop into a potential star after plucking him from the relative obscurity of English lower-league football. Ikpeazu told the Hearts website why working with the former Scotland manager appealed and why he is eager to play in front of the passionate Tynecastle support.

“I’m delighted to be here. It’s good to get it wrapped up and done, and I’m looking forward to being a Hearts player next season,” he said. “Playing football in England, I didn’t know much about Scottish football to be honest. But I did know that Hearts is a big club.

“When I came to the stadium and I saw it for myself, it was crazy. I’m sure they get loads of fans – 18,000 every game. That’s some big attendances and I’m looking forward to playing in front of them. 
That’s what attracted me, and having a manager in Craig who really wanted to work with me.

“I feel that’s the most important thing – to feel wanted – and that’s the way I felt. He really wants to work with me, he feels that he can get the best out of me and help me to develop as a player and make me become a better player than I am just now.”

The Cambridge analytics done, Ikpeazu is just about ready to see his own stats rise in Scottish football next season.