The Eagles playmaker has been making a positive early impact upon stepping up to the top flight and is aiming to do the same for the Three Lions
Crystal Palace’s £17 million ($22m) summer signing Eberechi Eze is readying himself for England Under-21s’ match with Albania on Friday but his journey has been a story of overcoming rejection.
Eze was released by Arsenal aged 13 and tried his luck at a series of other clubs but history repeated itself after the academies at Fulham, Reading and Millwall all declined his services.
Having worked part-time in a UK supermarket chain while studying in college, Eze finally saw a subsequent trial at Queen’s Park Rangers lead to a contract. He made his first-team debut six months later and now, four years on, he is playing against Manchester United and Chelsea in the Premier League.
To overcome such a series of setbacks wasn’t easy and Eze admits that he was concerned that his dream might never have come to fruition.
“Of course, you have doubts,” Eze said at England’s training centre at St. George’s Park. “You have doubts in your thinking of whether you’re going to get your professional contract, whether you’re going to be what you hoped you’d be.
“It has built huge resilience in me; I think being released, I’m sure loads of players will tell you this, being released is not the best feeling and you’re not in the best space mentally. But of course, as a footballer, not just a footballer, but anyone, you have to be strong, you have to be courageous.
“You have to get back up again, not allow your setbacks to determine where you end up in life. You have to keep moving forward. For me, I feel that’s something that was put into me, was forced into me after being released – I had to get up and be strong.
“But for me, it was more the support my family and people around me that continue to instil, that faith in me – and being religious as well.
“Having faith was huge for me, I would always believe that I would get to where I hope to get to and thankfully, and thanks to God, it has worked out.”
The contract at QPR was important for Eze, who staked a lot on making it in football. He grew up in Greenwich, London and admitted to money struggles in his part of the south-eastern borough as a kid.
“I didn’t come from a rich family or anything like that, my parents did what they could and try their best to help me and my brothers and my sister to get through life. I know the struggle that they’ve been through, it wasn’t easy for them even to gather money for us to look after us,” he added.
“But that’s why it was more of a relief because I can take some pressure off them and help them a bit and it’s not so much of a hand-to-mouth sort of situation.
“I finally got the pro contract that I was praying for, endlessly. And for my family, knowing that I’m now in a position where I can grow and progress along if I work hard, I can grow and be able to help them out of whatever situation that we were in back then.
“That’s why it was more of a relief because we had been in a situation without a club for a while and was still working hard still doing what we can but the fact that it came eventually and came quite late, it was honestly a grateful moment.
“I can’t relax because you’re still working hard but a bit of pressure is off now.”
Eze is out to gain more experience in England’s set-up, having had just two U21 and seven U20 appearances so far. England have already qualified for the U21 European Championships this summer but still have two extra games to play to help work out who will be in Aidy Boothroyd’s final squad.
That is amid a first full season in the Premier League for Eze, who has quickly emerged as a key player for Roy Hodgson’s high-flying Palace side. That hasn’t changed his mentality, though, and the polite youngster hasn’t changed his outlook since making it.
“You know how I feel about myself? I feel the same as how I felt when I was at QPR,” he continued. “So it’s not much of a difference for me. I know other people may look at me differently, but for me, the way that me and my family have been and how they’ve helped me and supported me, I can’t look at it any differently.”