Genk’s Ike Ugbo eyes reunion with childhood pal Declan Rice… after playing together in star-studded Chelsea youth team
DECLAN RICE reunites with an old schoolboy pal who was part of his star-studded youth on Thursday night.
Genk striker Ike Ugbo played alongside West Ham’s talisman for five years as part of a Chelsea youth team which is now a Premier League who’s who?
Ugbo, 23, also shared his football development with current Blues first-teamers Trevoh Chalobah and Mason Mount.
And Eddie Nketiah, now an Arsenal striker, kneels proudly next to gifted midfielder Mount in our old team shot of the Chelsea whizkids.
Ugbo quit Stamford Bridge this summer to test himself abroad and has scored twice in eight matches for the Belgians.
England midfielder Rice, 22, fought back from being ditched by Chelsea as a 14-year-old to become a massive figure for club and country.
Ugbo said: “If I had been released at that age, who knows what kind of mindset I would have had?
“It is a strange feeling, it can make or break you.
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"Some players get released and you never hear about them again or you just hear from someone that they have stopped playing altogether.
“So to go on like Declan has and just push on, it makes them stronger.
“To be released at 14 or 15, it is not easy to bounce back. It must be such a hard thing to take.
"It highlights how everyone’s path is different, so you shouldn’t worry about what others are doing.
“As long as you take care of what you can and what is in your control, you will get there if you do your best.
“As long as you are doing what you need to, everyone will eventually meet up at the same level.”
He added: “It is a bit crazy anyway because we played together at so many age groups.
“It shows what is achievable and what is possible.
“Declan was always the loud one in the changing room. It is mad to see him captain of West Ham now but he was always a big character.
“You can see now he is a main character in the changing room.”
Rice will lead out West Ham at London Stadium tonight looking for a third straight win in their Europa League campaign.
Ugbo won consecutive FA Youth Cups with Chelsea in 2016 and 2017.
Loans to Barnsley and Scunthorpe taught him the core values of football as a career.
But after further temporary moves, which took in Dutch side Roda and Belgians Cercle Brugge – where he scored 17 goals in 34 games – it was time to take the plunge and strike out with a permanent transfer to Genk.
London-born Ugbo hopes to move back to England and play in the Premier League one day, like many of his old Chelsea schoolboy pals.
He said: “Having the opportunity to keep learning at different clubs was good for me but I had had enough of loans.
“It’s down to how much risk you want to take and how much you will back yourself. No regrets from me.
“I want to get back to the Premier League but I need to make a name for myself.
“Being in Genk is good. It means there are no distractions. All I do is train and go home.
"We play twice a week now we are in Europe so there is little time for anything… I’ve been out for one meal with a member of club staff since I got here.
“We play a direct style, create lots of chances and I am looking forward to playing at London Stadium and seeing Declan again.”
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