Ebere Eze EXCLUSIVE: QPR youngster on Millwall rejection, criticism from his own fans and Steve McClaren’s sacking
“Ebere [Eze] was going to start working part-time in Tesco when we [QPR] first asked him to come in on trial.
“The journey he’s made in a short space of time since then has been quite phenomenal.”
Those the words of Paul Hall, who has been a mentor to Eze throughout his spell at Loftus Road, as well as his manager when he featured for the Under-23s.
Eze, still only 20, has endured a whirlwind few years since his release from Millwall in 2016.
Lions boss Neil Harris felt Eze wasn’t the type of player who would succeed at a club like Millwall.
So what did Eze make of that decision?
Speaking exclusively to talkSPORT.com, he said: “When I got released by Millwall, I understood the decision. I get why Neil made that call.
“You could see in training and in matches that I wasn’t their typical type of player.
“I didn’t think I would get released at the time I did though – that came as a big shock to me.
“I thought I’d probably get another year there, even though it didn’t look like there was much chance of me getting near the first team.
“It took me by surprise, but ultimately it was a blessing in disguise.”
Following that setback, Eze had a number of unsuccessful trials elsewhere before his break finally came with Rangers.
Chris Ramsey, the club’s technical director, has a long standing relationship with Eze’s agent – with QPR moving in swiftly to invite the Greenwich-born attacker on trial.
It wasn’t long before Eze would be signing his first contract in W12, after impressing Ramsey and co enough with his technical prowess, drive and work rate.
Eze admitted that he was considering calling it a day in football prior to that, with college or university on the horizon.
He added: “When I initially got released [by Millwall] I wasn’t too down, as there were plenty of clubs interested in me.
“But after being turned down by a few of them that’s when it really started hitting me. I was getting a bit worried – all I’ve ever wanted to do is to be a professional footballer.
“So then I was thinking about plan B and potentially going to university or college, and then QPR came along and gave me my big opportunity, which I’ll always be eternally grateful for.”
After netting nine goals in 14 starts for the club’s Elite Development squad, Eze was rewarded with a new contract in January 2017.
Soon after Eze made his senior debut against Blackburn in the FA Cup, but a promising 18-minute cameo was cut short by an Achilles injury.
The 2017/2018 season is when Eze really introduced himself to the Football League, and after an excellent loan spell at Wycombe Wanderers – managed by Rs favourite Gareth Ainsworth – he was ready to make his mark at Loftus Road.
Eze impressed in the second half of that campaign, featuring regularly under former Rangers boss Ian Holloway, who he knew from his time at Millwall.
Big things were expected of the youngster – who is also eligible to play for Nigeria – this season as he put-to-pen on a new three-year deal in August.
He was also handed the iconic No 10 shirt by another former boss Steve McClaren, which has been worn by club legends Rodney Marsh and Stan Bowles – as well as the likes of John Byrne, Roy Wegerle and Adel Taarabt.
With that has come considerable pressure, so did that affect Eze?
“No, I didn’t see the No 10 shirt as too much pressure being put on me,” he said.
“Of course with that comes expectation, but at the end of the day I know what I’m capable of producing.
“I didn’t let it affect my mindset in terms of what I wanted to do and how I wanted to play.
“You have to deal with that pressure and expectation as a footballer, regardless of your age or status.
“I saw being given the No 10 shirt as an appreciation for what I had achieved so far and a belief from people at the club that I can prove to be a key player here.
“At the end of the day I’ve got a job to do, and I’ve got to produce and help this team as much as I can in the future.”
Eze has experienced a topsy turvy campaign, ‘a season of pain’ according to Hall.
After establishing himself as a regular under the former England boss, he was taken out of the firing line and dropped to the bench after he hit a patchy run of form.
Eze, though, was ‘very disappointed’ to see McClaren – someone who he holds in very high regard – axed by the Hoops last month.
“It was really disappointing to see Steve leave. He played me on a regular basis and did a lot for me, both as a player and a person,” he revealed.
“The belief he showed in me is something I’ve only received from a few managers, so for him to be so honest and invest the amount of time he did into me is something I won’t forget.”
A general feeling among many Rangers fans is that Eze’s progress stagnated under McClaren – an assertion he strongly disagrees with.
“No, that’s not true whatsoever. I continued learning under Steve,” he continued.
“He showed me a lot of things that I hadn’t seen before. I know what he did for me at the end of the day, and he most definitely gave me a platform to show what I could do.
“I’ve played a lot of games this season and taking my age into account that isn’t something you see that regularly at this level.
“My form had dipped a little bit from the start of the season, so I understood why Steve put me on the bench.
“But I have nothing but the utmost respect for Steve, he taught me so much. I have a lot to thank him for.”
So how would Eze sum up his season?
“A huge learning curve,” he says. “I was a bit naive at the beginning of the season, I thought it was going to be all rosey and we would probably push for the play-offs. It obviously didn’t turn out that way.
“When it’s going well you can’t be too high, as things can change – we’ve seen that ourselves.
“I’ve learnt more this season than any other period in my life. It’s been a vital lesson for me and it’s something I can take with me for the rest of my career to use as a platform to push on from.”
Eze has faced his fair share of criticism from QPR fans on social media regarding the quality of his performances – especially since the turn of the year.
The ‘lazy’ and ‘disinterested’ tag has cropped up a lot. What does Ebere have to say about that?
“It doesn’t faze me. Everyone is entitled to their opinion at the end of the day. Receiving criticism is part and parcel of being a footballer,” he said.
“When it’s going well they talk about you just as much. You can’t be too up or too down.
“Fans are going to comment on what is going on, so you have to deal with it. You have to be thick skinned.”
Eze’s team-mate Jordan Cousins, someone he has known since his teenage days, recently told talkSPORT he has no real interest in social media anymore, with fan abuse taking its toll.
So is coming off the likes of Twitter and Instagram something the youngster has considered doing himself?
“No. I haven’t got to the point where I’ve allowed it to really affect me. I go on and off it at the right time,” he explained.
“You can’t be on social media too much, especially as a footballer. It can really affect your confidence, especially if you’re getting a lot of stick.
“For me personally I go on it for a little while and have a browse, but I don’t let comments from people I don’t know affect me.
“I don’t think some fans realise how these constant stream of negative comments can affect a player. “Maybe they think we don’t see these tweets or whatever – but believe me we do.
“You can’t take it too seriously though; you have to learn to ignore it. My brother (Ikechi) really helps with the mental side of things whenever I have something on my mind.
“Hally [Paul Hall], [Chris] Ramsey and Imps [Andy Impey] are people I turn to as well.”
The ‘confident, creative, level headed’ youngster – described in his own words – has a long way to get to the very top of the game – where he firmly believes he can get too.
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There is the same belief around QPR that Eze can eventually go on to play at the highest level.
“I tell Ebere he can be anything he wants to be. He’s the best player on the pitch when he’s on top form – it doesn’t matter who else is playing,” Hall added.
“In his case especially patience will be absolutely key, if he is to develop into the player that we know he is truly capable of becoming.”
Eze is on one hell of a rollercoaster, and Rangers fans should enjoy the ride for the duration that they’re on it.
Source: SportsLatest TS