How Eberechi Eze went from being released four times to becoming an England international
Eberechi Eze on being released by Arsenal, Fulham, Reading and Millwall before the age of 18, the former coaches who were crucial to his success, and why his faith is so important
I grew up in Greenwich, near the old Greenwich Hospital, on a council estate and would play football in a small yellow cage on one of the council estate in that area, which I don't think it's there anymore!
We would create goals with our jumpers and we were there every day after school, before going to training or on trial. I'd go there to play football first, and that's where I fell in love with football.
When you live on an estate, there are so many different things can happen when playing football!
We also used to play at the back of an HSS Hire where there would be a barbed wire fence. We would be playing games like squash, around the world or World Cup and sometimes we would kick the ball over, and if the shop was closed, we couldn't get our ball until the next morning and then hopefully it would be thrown over. Sometimes it would hit the barbed wire and pop.
Then on the other side of the car park, that was where the dogs were so you had to get good at shooting and passing!
Obviously, a lot of those places where we used to play football have changed or are no longer there – even some of the cages aren’t there anymore – which is sad because they have sentimental value to you but the love I have for that area is still there.
I think I was 5 or 6 when I started playing football properly, at a little community session. From there, one of the parents spoke to my parents and said: 'You should bring him to this team.'
I started playing at ProStars in South London first at about seven, then went to Bruin for the under-8s and half of under-9s, which was when I started getting scouted by professional teams.
I carried on playing for my Sunday league team in tournaments and stuff like that while I was on trial with the different academies but when I signed for Arsenal at the age of nine, I then focused on academy football.
‘It’s probably a part of growing up in football that people don't really understand’
I was at Arsenal until I was 13 before I got released and that was very tough to take. Obviously, that was all I knew at that time as a child. I loved football, I loved playing for Arsenal and that was probably built into my identity at that age as a child.
It was like: ‘This is Ebere, he plays for Arsenal’ So, the moment that I got released, a huge chunk of my identity was gone. That's probably a part of growing up in football that people don't really understand. They just see it as, 'Oh, this is what he does.' But no, that's actually who he is as a child. That's how he's thinking. He thinks this is who he is.
So it is very difficult getting released. If it wasn't for the support of my family and my faith in God, I don't think I would see things how I do, and maybe wouldn't have got out of that situation.
Within a week or two of leaving Arsenal, other parents were pointing us in the direction of other clubs so I went on trial to Southend for a couple of weeks and I was offered a contract there but we weren’t sure it was the right thing to do because it was a long way to go and then another parent put us in touch with Fulham.
The Fulham and QPR coaches who were crucial for a young Eze
After two weeks at Fulham, I was offered a contract and that was where I met Dan Thomas and Kevin Betsy, who were hugely important for me.
At Fulham I found people who believed in me, wanted to push me, and help me to improve. I'm very grateful to them because they saw something in me and instilled that belief back into me.
It was still difficult – I remember facing Arsenal a few months after being released and welling up because of all the emotions and not dealing properly with the feelings of being released.
But I'm very grateful I met them because they helped me on my journey, they helped me grow and built me into the person I am today.
Football coaches are more than just coaches. These guys are people I still speak to now and I think that is a testament to how they are as people and how they influenced me and my character.
Of course, they taught me and helped me improve as a footballer, but they also shaped me as a person. What they showed me and instilled in me was just as important, and for that, I'm definitely grateful to them.
I was at Fulham for two-and-a-half years and then got released at Christmas. So I went to Reading on trial for half of a year but didn’t get a contract there either. I ended up getting a contract at Millwall but again, I was released at the end of the scholarship two years later.
After getting released from Millwall, my confidence was low and you're still trying to find your way. But I ended up signing a professional contract at QPR and had the chance to meet Chris Ramsey, Andy Impey and Paul Hall.
Those three majorly influenced me and my growth as a football player. They saw potential in me. It was just about bringing it out. I'm hugely grateful to them too because I believe God put them in that position and used them to bring that out of me and to help me along on my journey. So without them, I don't know what this situation would look like.
Gareth Ainsworth, who was my coach out on loan at Wycombe Wanderers, is another one. He was huge for me. He had watched me in a couple of QPR Under-23s games and saw that I had something and gave me an opportunity.
When I look back at why I was released by those clubs, I guess ultimately it was because I wasn’t playing well enough at the time. I was maybe not expressing myself in the way that I am now.
Another thing would be my understanding of football and what it meant to work hard and apply myself. I probably didn't fully understand that until I met Paul Hall, Andy Impey, and Chris Ramsey. They showed me a whole different side of football.
To be real, I don't look back at any of the teams and say, 'Oh, they shouldn't have released me.' That's the decision they made at the time and it made sense for them. Of course, now it looks like they've made a mistake. But at the time, it was probably clear for them to make that decision. So, I don't blame anyone, to be honest.
I feel like the journey I've been on has forced me to grow up, improve and be better. I haven't been given anything. All that I have in football is because God has blessed me and given me the opportunity to apply myself and work hard for it.
So the fact that I'm here, it's not as if someone's done me a favour. It's because I've worked hard for it. That's the mentality that all these difficult situations have given me. They've helped me to understand and know that. I'm grateful for all those struggles and the positions I was in.
To any kid who finds themselves in a similar position, my message would be to force yourself to believe in yourself; to continue to apply yourself; and don't lose faith in the dream you have or the goal you have because anything is possible and you're capable of achieving your maximum. As long as you're dedicated, you will. That's the best advice I could give.
‘Insane’ day where Eze snapped his Achilles on the same day as his first England call-up
My faith has also helped me through the tough times I’ve had. My parents instilled my faith from a young age and it is the centre of my life and the most important thing.
My faith has helped me by providing balance. It prevents me from putting too much emphasis on the present or past events, instead allowing me to focus on the fact that I am blessed and I am grateful to be alive and to be able to do all these things. Faith has been my strong anchor, providing peace throughout all situations so I'm hugely grateful to God.
My faith helped me through that insane day back in 2021. I had never had a serious injury before but after rupturing my Achilles in training, I was in the doctor’s office later that day when I received a message telling me I had been called up by the England senior team for the first time.
Dealing with the situation was difficult initially, but after a day or two, I came to understand that I was in that position for a reason. For some reason, I wasn't meant to get called up at that time.
However, I trusted in God that as long as I continued to apply myself, I was on the right trajectory. This is my journey, and I'm fully dedicated to it, whatever it may bring.
Having faith has been the main thing that has helped me through absolutely everything.
I’m sitting here now, an England international, but I believe those setbacks were worth it regardless, because my primary concern is less about myself and more about how I can use this position to inspire others and share my faith.
For me, that's the reason why I do this. I'm in this position to point people to God, and I feel that it's an incredible position to be in. I'm just grateful that God chose me for this role.
Looking back at all the struggles, I definitely think if I can do this, why can't anyone else? I’m hoping it will serve as an example for anyone hoping to achieve similar dreams.
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