UCHE IKPEAZU has declared ‘the cream always rises’ as the Hearts striker vowed to bounce back from a forgettable campaign with the Tynecastle strugglers.
The 25-year-old has found the net just twice this season, albeit one of those was a memorable leveller at Easter Road which sparked a 2-1 victory over Hibs in September.
He has been limited to 29 appearances – 18 of those as a starter – and found it particularly hard to cement a place in the side when Craig Levein, the man who signed him, was replaced by Daniel Stendel.
However, he insists it is ‘inevitable’ that he will prove his worth again.
He said: “This season has been tough. I won’t hide from it. A lot of people need to be transparent, and I feel like I’ve underachieved. It’s been a bit of a hiccup.
“There are many reasons, some of them are out of my control, but this campaign has not been what I wanted it to be.
“I wasn’t getting in squads [before the SPFL shut-down].
“But I am working hard and I know that cream always rises and I know that I’ll rise again. That is inevitable. That’s how I genuinely feel.
“I thank God that I’ve got good people around me like my friends and family who have been there through the ups and downs. I’ve got good support who remind me that I’ve been in tough situations in my career and you’ve just got to keep going.
“Just because you are going through challenges, that doesn’t define you. I have time, I’m only 25 years old, and I’ve bounced back from every set-back I’ve had so far.
“I’ve been down at times – about how Hearts have done this season and my role in that – but I still take some happiness in knowing that the best is yet to come.”
Ikpeazu’s fortunes this term have been in sharp contrast to his maiden campaign in Scottish football.
He scored four goals in his first seven appearances after arriving from Cambridge in the summer of 2018, becoming an immediate fans’ favourite due to his work ethic and bruising physicality.
A foot injury condemned Ikpeazu to four months on the sidelines however he went on to score another four times in his final nine games of the 2018/19 campaign and started Hearts’ Scottish Cup final defeat against Celtic.
He continued: “I feel like in the last couple of years I was making progress in my career and have worked really hard to get to this stage. Even last season, when I was injured for four months, I came beck for the Scottish Cup final and it was a brilliant year.
“My first season in Scotland was amazing and I need to get back playing regularly to the best of my ability.
“That’s my short-term goal. The rest will take care of itself. I feel like I can still get to my destination.”
In an interview with The Gap Academy, Ikpeazu also revealed that he has drawn inspiration from Chelsea legend Didier Drogba – from his playing style to how to cope with set-backs in his career.
He added: “I read Drogba’s book [‘Commitment: My Autobiography’] in 2016 when I was going through a tough time in my career. His ability is undoubted but his mindset was incredible when you consider the adversities he went through and the disappointments he had.
“He would occupy defenders all day long, could score off both feet and used all the physical attribute he had. He was the ultimate.
“Obviously Didier Drogba was on a different level but he is someone you can try to learn from.”