Like many of the Premier League’s brightest stars, Eberechi Eze’s route to the top was no easy one, and it included a detour via the EFL to get the England Under-21s international where he is today.
Just five short years ago, the Crystal Palace attacker was setting the Sky Bet League Two alight. Now, he’s making his mark on the Premier League.
“Every so often I look back and think 'I’ve come a long way',” he reflected. “From being in the changing room at Wycombe and trying to learn my trade and get into a first team I look back and I say I’m very grateful for all that I have learnt and thankful to God that he’s brought me this far because it’s been a long journey for sure.”
After stints with Arsenal, Fulham and Reading during his youth career, the 23-year-old would go on to join Millwall, but his hopes were dashed when he failed to secure a professional contract with the Lions.
However, patience was key. Whilst getting his head down in school, he caught the eye of second-tier side Queens Park Rangers, and – as they say – the rest is history.
“I owe a lot to QPR for the opportunity that they gave me and how much faith they put in me to put me in the first team, giving me the chance and I’m thankful to God that I took it and managed to make a name for myself,” he said.
“I’m hugely appreciative to Chris Ramsey, Andrew Impey and Paul Hall as those guys helped me a lot and took me in (to the Club) as one of their own so I’ll always be grateful.
“I made some amazing friends there whilst I played and having loads of my friends in the first team as well made playing every week and training day-to-day so much fun and enjoyable so I’m hugely grateful to them for that opportunity.”
Eze is also able to compare notes with his team-mates, many of whom have taken a similar path to his own.
Among the Eagles squad are the likes of Michael Olise – the midfielder who came through the ranks at Reading – along with Conor Gallagher – the Chelsea loanee who made his debut in the EFL Trophy and enjoyed second-tier loan spells prior to his arrival at Selhurst Park – and Marc Guehi, who spent last season on the books of Swansea City.
“There are loads of amazing players in the Championship across the different teams, and once you make the step (into that division) you start to see that there is actually a lot of quality there which perhaps is not how everyone thinks, so it’s definitely something to look at for sure,” he explained.
“I think when you’ve got players around you who have gone through similar things it makes life a lot easier as you’ve had the same experiences and you bounce off each other.”
He highlighted the strength of the League in his progression, having come up against former top-flight heavyweights during his time in the Championship.
He added: “It’s extremely tough with the amount of games you are playing back-to-back and the intensity of the League is crazy, which definitely prepares you for life in the Premier League.”
Eze also gained a taste of life in League Two, after heading out on loan from the Hoops during the first half of the 2017/18 campaign to Wycombe Wanderers.
He made 22 appearances in all EFL competitions as Gareth Ainsworth’s side eventually wrapped up promotion to the Sky Bet League One by the end of the season, and the former Chairboys loanee more than played his part before returning to West London.
“That was a great experience,” he recalled. “I remember at the start not being sure on whether to go or not but it was probably one of the best decisions I made at the time because it gave me an opportunity to show myself at a professional level and not just in the Under-23s.
“I guess it also gave QPR some confidence in me that I can do it in a professional team so 100% I am very grateful to them (Wycombe) for that opportunity and all that I learnt there because it put me in good stead going back to QPR.”
His advice to younger players on a similar journey to his now?
“I would say to continue to always believe in yourself, don’t allow one rejection or one manager’s opinion to define your career,” he said.
“Always give everything that you’ve got and allow God to dictate anything that can happen in the future as anything can happen as a lot of players in the Premier League who have come from the EFL will tell you.”