The Igbo people are an ethnic group of southeastern Nigeria, with as many as 24 million people speaking the native Igbo language.
The word Chioma roughly translates to “Good God,” something which takes on a deeper meaning for those who use the language frequently but more an expression of surprise on English shores, and something many England fans may have been thinking out loud when Chioma Ubogagu was named in the latest Lionesses squad on Tuesday morning.
Neville has been watching Ubogagu since taking the job back in January and has kept in regular touch with her club, Orlando Pride, about her progress and has been “monitoring” her performances.
To the outside world, the 26-year-old has never been on the radar of the England, despite being born in London. Her mother Tina and father Aloy moved from Nigeria before Ubogagu was born to settle in London and look for work.
When Ubogagu was three, her parents divorced and she moved with her mother and brother to Texas in the United States, where her fledgling soccer career would begin in earnest.
Such was her form and raw talent for the various teams she played for growing up in the Lone Star State, that Ubogagu ended up spending her college years at Stanford, one of the world’s top universities.
Around the world Stanford may be known for its academic reputation and stature, but it has a rich history of producing top women’s players.
Kelley O’Hara, Christen Press, Julie Foudy, Ali Riley, and most recently, Andi Sullivan, are some of the names to come through and play for the Stanford Cardinal, and all of whom have gone on to have successful careers to date.
Ubogagu studied film and media alongside pursuing her career with a view to do what any young girl in the U.S. can now aim for — playing professionally in the National Women’s Soccer League.
Ubogagu’s impact was such she was named Freshman of the Year and ended her time with the Cardinal with a more than respectable 27 goals in 89 appearances.
In January 2015, Ubogagu was a fourth-round pick by Sky Blue FC, but her talent had been brought to the attention of managers overseas, in particular then Arsenal boss Pedro Losa.
Losa had been impressed with her work ethic, her speed, and her ability to score goals, so instead of rocking up in New Jersey for the 2015 NWSL season, Ubogagu instead moved across the pond to spend the year playing in the FA Women’s Super League.
While never setting the world alight, Ubogagu ended the season with an impressive six-goal tally, tied with Rachel Williams, Toni Duggan, Gemma Davison, Izzy Christiansen, Eni Aluko, and trailing only Natalia Pablos, Jess Clarke, and Beth Mead.
One of those came on her debut against Notts County, a game more fondly remembered for Ellen White’s creative free kick, before she followed that up with the winner against Manchester City at the City Academy.
Quickly making a name for herself in North London, Ubogagu bookended the year with another goal against Notts County, this one a last-minute mazy run in the Continental Cup to seal a 3-0 victory and a medal for her to take back to the U.S.
A difficult 2016 with Houston Dash saw Ubogagu score only once before she was traded to Tom Sermanni’s Orlando Pride at the start of 2017.
Four goals in 19 games, playing in a range of both attacking and defensive positions was followed up by another four goals in 2018, though those who know believe it could and should have been more.
Ubogagu started the season strongly and her four goals all came before the end of May, including goals against eventual NWSL finalists North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns.
At one point the tricky winger was tied for goals with Jess McDonald, Megan Rapinoe, and Crystal Dunn, but inconsistency was perhaps her downfall.
Beyond her goals, her creativity was also a plus point. In a match against Chicago Red Stars, in which Ubogagu scored, she completed every pass she attempted in the first half and failed to complete only five of her passes after the break.
Most recently, Ubogagu made her debut for Brisbane Roar in the Australian W-League, assisting a goal on her debut before the call came from Phil Neville that she would be quickly flying across the world to meet up with the rest of the squad this weekend.
So what has Neville seen in Ubogagu that should mean she isn’t the surprise everybody thinks she is? Players who have played against her in the NWSL speak of a “fast” and “technically sound” player who is versatile, something Neville cherishes.
Ubogagu’s fellow NWSL star Rachel Daly is often praised by the England head coach for being as he puts it “six players in one,” with Ubogagu able to mirror Daly in her ability to play up front, on the wing, and at wing back, as she often has during her time with the Pride.
Some believe she’s actually a more rounded player than Daly, but the Dash striker is a better goal scorer than the former Arsenal forward.
If there need be any more justification for her talents, Ubogagu very nearly took herself out of the reckoning for England consideration altogether when precisely 12 months ago she was called up to the U.S. first team for the first time by head coach Jill Ellis.
Ubogagu has represented the U.S. at Under-18, U-20, and U-23 level, but didn’t end up making an appearance during last November’s friendlies, still leaving her free to play for either England or Nigeria.
In 2012 she played in all six games of the USA’s triumphant U-20 World Cup campaign, not looking out of place in a team which included Julie Ertz (then Johnston), Dunn, Kealia Ohai, Sam Mewis, and Morgan Brian.
One concern for her coaches in Orlando was her ability to increase her end product. Described as “ticking most of the boxes” by people who have worked with her, all the sounds and signs are that Neville may have made a shrewd pick.
The current England team lacks genuine, technical quality, with all-time most capped midfielder Fara Williams recently admitting the squad trails other countries in that specific area.
One other bonus for Neville, who still appears to looking for balance in his team, is that Ubogagu is naturally left-footed.
With every current England attacker, Izzy Christiansen, Fran Kirby, Jordan Nobbs, Georgia Stanway, Rachel Daly, Toni Duggan, Beth Mead, Lucy Staniforth. and Nikita Parris, all predominantly or wholly right-footed, Ubogagu offers the rare chance for England to play a natural left-footed player on the left wing, a role so often filled by the likes of Duggan or Daly.
Her versatility is proven in her stats. Her four goals from eight shots on targets in the NWSL show an eye for goal when the chance arises, while she completed almost 300 of her 424 passes during the season, a ratio of almost 70 percent, almost 40 percent of which were forward passes, the rest either sideways or backward passes.
Defensively, Ubogagu made seven clearances and 16 interceptions, with a tackle success rate of just over 73 percent, not bad for a player who grew up an instinctive attacker.
Ubogagu may not feature for England against Austria or Sweden, it may be that she’s there for Neville to keep an eye on at close quarters, along with fellow new faces Ellie Roebuck and Georgia Stanway.
Either way, it’s a curve ball few saw coming, but it might just be the one the England team is looking for.