BY SAM SMITH AND ANDREW MCSTEEN
Eberechi Eze has revealed that his release by Millwall aged 18 made him a more resilient character.
The Crystal Palace midfielder was let go by the Eagles’ South London rivals at the end of his scholarship – with then-Lions boss Neil Harris delivering the news.
Eze signed for Queens Park Rangers, where he thrived. The 22-year-old made 112 appearances for the west Londoners and scored 20 times.
His form made him one of the most sought-after prospects in the EFL and he completed a summer move to Palace for a fee that will eventually rise to a reported £20million.
“It has built huge resilience in me,” Eze said of his release by Millwall. “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, as anyone – you have to be strong, you have to be courageous. You have to get back up again, not to 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. You have doubts in your thinking of whether you’re going to get your professional contract, whether you’re going to be what you would hope you’d be.
“But for me, it was more the support my family and people around me that continue to instill that faith in me and being religious as well. For me having faith was huge for me that 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.”
Eze’s Millwall exit put the Greenwich-born youngster at a crossroads. His ‘Plan B’ was to go back into education, but he says he never seriously considered attending college and university.
Instead, he pursued trials at other clubs.
“I wasn’t particularly preparing to take Plan B, but, of course, that’s in the back of your head – the doubts,” the former Arsenal youngster said during a press conference while on England U21 duty. “You’re not sure whether you’re going to actually become a professional footballer or get that opportunity.
“It was more the support from my family who just continued to put faith in me, continued to support me and push me to not give up – to take whatever is coming my way. [They told me:] ‘Continue to go to those trials and work hard and see where you can end up,’ and that was pretty much it for me. I was always more focused on and hoping that Plan A would work out.”
Plan A eventually worked. An offer from QPR to join their then-U21s was put on the table – and it allowed Eze to give back to his family, who he says showed faith in his football development.
“It was a relief [to get a contract at QPR] because 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 could grow and be able to help my family out of whatever situation that we were in back then and that’s why it was more of a relief, because we had been in a situation without a club for a while. We were still working hard, still doing what we could, but the fact that it came eventually, and it came quite late, it was honestly a grateful moment. There was relief but I knew I couldn’t relax because you’re still working hard, but a bit of pressure is off now.
“[Growing up] wasn’t easy. I didn’t come from a rich family or anything like that, my parents did what they could and tried their best to help me, my brothers and my sister to get through life. And, of course, I know the struggle that they’ve been through.
“It wasn’t easy for them to even gather money to look after us. But that’s why it was more of a relief because I can take some pressure off them. I can help them a bit and it’s not much of a hand-to-mouth sort of situation.”
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