Forgotten man Uche Ikpeazu has questioned Watford’s handling of young loan players, claiming he has not felt like a Watford player for the last three years and that he only got confirmation he would be released via the club website.
The strapping forward joined the Hornets on a three-year deal in 2013 after netting 28 times for Reading Under-18s. He believes the club forked out £300,000 for his services after finishing the 2012-13 campaign as the top scorer in the country at under-18 level, but his Watford career amounted to two appearances on the bench against Bournemouth and Bristol City in the League Cup and FA Cup respectively. He spent the majority of the time out on loan at Crewe, Port Vale, Doncaster and Blackpool.
“In the last three years I haven’t been a Watford player,” he exclusively told WD Sport on the day his release was confirmed. “I spent minimal time at Watford so I don’t feel like I’ve been a Watford player. It might be the club I’ve been signed to but I don’t feel like a Watford player because I’ve been out on loan.”
After failing to get a single minute of first-team action in three years Ikpeazu did not expect a contract offer from Watford. What he didn’t expect was to learn of his official departure at the same time as the supporters. “They never told me; they never told me at all,” he said. “I found out today [Friday]. I tried to contact them several times, to find out what was going on, but [sporting director] Luke Dowling completely ignored me. Officially I found out today. Several times when I came back from loans I asked him [Dowling] for a meeting and he said he didn’t know [what was happening]. He’s the only one who’s there that you can contact, really.”
The last three years have seen a succession of loan spells for the 21-year-old. He has been at Crewe Alexandra player three times, as well as turning out for Doncaster Rovers and, this season, Port Vale and Blackpool. Not every move has been a success but there has been one constant: a lack of communication from Watford while away from WD18. “I don’t feel as if they have had my best interests [at heart],” said Ikpeazu. “I scored five in 14 games at the beginning of the season. They’ve never came to one of my games to see how I was doing on loan. I was out there by myself, even when I was doing well. It was like they were waiting for me to not do very well.”
Ikpeazu said he did not know if other Watford players out on loan shared a similar experience. He revealed it was down to him to arrange a spell at Port Vale, managed by promotion-winning former Watford captain Robert Page, at the start of the season.
“I was told that if I wanted to go out on loan I should sacrifice some of my wages,” said Ikpeazu. “Port Vale’s budget was tight and they could only afford to pay an amount of my wages. After some debate Port Vale were able to increase the wages they could offer and I could go out on loan. That just summed it up. I knew what I was dealing with from the start of the season. I was desperate to get out there and make the most of what I had. At that time I was debating it because Port Vale were the only club in League One who wanted me.”
Factors out of the striker’s control haven’t helped. The fact Watford have changed the head coach seven times in four years has not helped, according to Ikpeazu. He felt he was close to making a breakthrough under Gianfranco Zola but the quality of forwards the scouting network are able to attract reduces the possibility of young strikers being given a chance. Alex Jakubiak, the leading scorer in the under-21 side, has made one appearance in three seasons.
“I was treated really badly,” said Ikpeazu. “When people see you’re playing Watford they think you must be enjoying life and everything is cool because you’re playing for a Premier League club. They don’t realise [what it can be like]. If you don’t rate me then fair enough. But you can’t doubt me when I’ve been out on loan and scored goals. You have to at least come to see me play. I’m a bit annoyed about the way I was treated, of course, but I’m annoyed as well that I wasn’t given the opportunity to show what I was made of. There are situations where I could have been given a chance. They had better hope I don’t do well because it’s going to look bad on them. I believe I can do well. I’m determined to do well. It will be a loss for them because they haven’t made any money from me.”