Reports that first surfaced over a week ago on the Yanks Abroad website linking American forward Eduvie Ikoba with a summer transfer to Celtic have today resurfaced after being picked up by the Hungarian sports outlet Nemzeti Sport.
The American, who plays for Hungarian Nemzeti Bajnokság 1 (NB1) side Zalaegerszeg, was quizzed about his future by Yanks Abroad after recently helping his side claim their first Magyar Kupa success.
“I’m not sure what my future will hold yet, whether I’ll stay or whether I’ll go,” he told Yanks Abroad, “I’m just going to assume that I’ll be here at Zala… until I hear something different or a contract comes where maybe I can take another step in my career but who knows?”
The link to Celtic seems to have come from out of left field and while the player would likely jump at the chance to move to Paradise, he does not strike me as a typical Ange Postecoglou target or someone who would improve Celtic’s attacking options.
However, at 6ft3in tall and standing 3 inches taller than Oh, Celtic’s current tallest centre-forward, Ikoba would fit a profile of adding some much needed height and physical presence to the attack.
Along with helping his side claim their first-ever Magyar Kupa, 25-year-old Ikoba has contributed 13 goals and 2 assists in all competitions this term in what could be classed as his breakout season. However, 10 of those goals came before mid-November and a run of 10 games without a goal in the league only came to an end earlier this month with a goal against Puskás Akadémia.
By virtue of being ACSOM’s man in Hungary, I have had the opportunity to watch Ikoba on several occasions this season and do not see him being a fit for Ange’s style or, quite simply, being good enough to challenge Kyogo or Oh for a starting role.
With Zalaegerszeg, Ikoba is tasked with being the target man in head coach Gabór Boér’s 4-5-1/4-3-3 system, with two quick wide players playing off him. Boér prefers his side to play a more direct game, bypassing the midfield and calling on Ikoba to stay central and link the play as well as provide an aeriel threat in the box.
Ikoba’s biggest strength is his physical presence and ability to hold the ball up with his back to the goal and bring others into play. However, he rarely looks comfortable with the ball at his feet and it is often by luck, rather than skill or design, that he is able to get the better of defenders in ground duals.
Unlike the NB1’s top-scorer Barnabas Varga – a player who would be a better fit for Celtic’s style of play, if we were to shop in this market – Ikoba is a fairly static striker who does not work the channels. Instead, he relies on his height and physical presence to win aerial duals and cause problems for defenders.
NOT THE STRIKER WE ARE LOOKING FOR
Ikoba’s work rate also leaves a lot to be desired. Where Ange likes his strikers to work hard and press from the front, Ikoba is very passive in the press and allows opponents time on the ball to build out from the back. While this may be a tactic of Zalaegerszeg, learning to press the Ange way does not seem within his skillset.
In front of goals, Ikoba also gets mixed results. Undoubtedly a threat in the air, 5 of his 11 league goals have come from headers, however Ikoba has a disappointing shot-to-goal conversion rate of just 14.29% (lower than Alfredo Morelos) and has scored 0.94 goals less than his expected goals for the season.
The player Ikoba most reminds me of is Vakoun Bayo, another tall, awkward forward who – like Ikoba – played in Slovakia before his ill-fated move to Celtic in 2019; Ikoba played two seasons with Trencin before re-signing for Zalaegerszeg last summer. Bayo, as we all knowm was a Peter Lawwell project signing and Lawwell is back in the building, but let’s hope that’s just a coincidence.
Ikoba is a good striker for his level, but he’s not the best in Hungary, and certainly not ready for the step up to Celtic. The Hungarian league is going through a resurgence and there are some talented young players breaking through that Celtic should be keeping an eye on. Unfortunately for Ikoba, he does not fall into that category.