‘Hard work got me here’: Eberechi Eze determined to take England chance

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Eberechi Eze;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Eberechi Eze</a> is hoping to add to his four England caps during Euro 2024.</span><span>Photograph: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP</span>

When the text came through from the Football Association this time, it is reasonable to assume that Eberechi Eze had a flashback – and a harrowing one as well – to the episode he describes as “the biggest test” he has faced. And it is certainly worth saying that the bar is set high in this regard.

Before the previous European Championship, played in 2021, Eze clicked on a message to say he had been included on Gareth Southgate’s list of players for the tournament, before the announcement of the provisional squad a week or so later. It was Eze’s first senior England recognition. The problem was that he had just been helped off the Crystal Palace training pitch, having ruptured an achilles tendon.

Related: England’s midfield conundrum: who will Southgate turn to at Euro 2024?

Eze is asked to look back to the trauma, also to how he was released as a teenager by Arsenal, Fulham, Reading and Millwall, the last of them after his second year as a scholar leading up to his 18th birthday, and he is engaging on it all; quotable.

But really, when Eze heard on 21 May that he was in Southgate’s provisional 33-man squad for Euro 2024, he wanted to look forward; to make it happen and get to Germany. The 25-year-old had effectively seen off Marcus Rashford and there would be more stellar names between him and the final cut, the competition so hot for the attacking places in the line behind the striker.

That Eze would be preferred to Jack Grealish and James Maddison says everything for the season he has had; the rarity of his talent. Nobody in the Premier League can beat his man from a standing start quite like Eze, exploding away and yet offering the impression that he is floating.

“I try my best to let go of stuff that has happened before, try not to focus too much on it,” Eze says. “When I got the text this time it was just gratitude. Every opportunity I get I’m determined to take. That was the main emotion for me.”

Eze is asked whether there is any sense that he has demons to exorcise after what happened on the eve of the last Euros. “Not really,” he says. “The type of person I am, I just want to enjoy this opportunity. I’m seeing it as the hard work I’ve put in has got me here. I’m ready to give my all. That’s the main thing for me, enjoy the moment – not look back at what’s gone before.”

What has gone before, though, has got him to where he is now; flying at Palace, coveted by rival clubs – Tottenham prominent among them – and primed to make a difference at the Euros where Southgate will rely heavily on his substitutes or, as he calls them, “finishers”.


Eze acknowledges that the achilles injury is “part of the journey, part of the story”. He talks about how tough it was to watch the previous Euros, “overthinking” and “Oh, imagine if I was there or whatever.”

The 25-year-old offers insight into his mentality when he recalls the rehabilitation. “I spoke to loads of people and there were so many different [comeback] times – they would say: ‘Six months, nine months,’” Eze says. “I was hearing about a gymnast who came back in four or three and a half months …”

It was Russia’s Artur Dalaloyan, who returned three months after an achilles rupture to win gold in the men’s team gymnastics at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

“My mindset was whatever he’s been doing I’m going to do that as well,” Eze says. “I returned to full training in four and a half months, and then was with the team and coming off the bench [after six months]. It was tough but I don’t think I have the mentality that I have now without an experience like that.”

Ditto the teenage releases, which feel like an extraordinary indictment of the clubs who just did not see his potential. Was it not obvious? “It’s a good question,” Eze says. “I got: ‘Not really working hard enough.’ Or: ‘Not really suiting the style of play of a club.’

“I’ll be honest, I don’t fully understand the reasons why. It wasn’t really explained clearly … like, OK, this makes sense. I get this. It was just: ‘You’re getting released.’ But I don’t look back and think: ‘I didn’t deserve that there.’ I just see it as: ‘They tried to make a decision, they are making calls all the time and they are going to get some wrong.’”

QPR got him. Picking him up in every sense after Millwall, they initially gave him a one-year contract in 2016. There would be a successful loan to Wycombe in League Two in the first half of 2017‑18 and, once back at QPR, it was onwards and upwards. The £19.5m move to Palace came in 2020 and he is dreaming big at the Euros, hoping to add to his four caps.

Does Eze ever think back to the Wycombe days – for example, the 1-0 defeat at Accrington Stanley on the proverbial Tuesday night in November? “I remember that!” he says.

“I feel like there are moments along the journey that are tough but one thing I’ve always had is faith. I know that God is there and he’s working for me. I always try to appreciate how far I’ve come. It’s a big difference from Accrington Stanley to where I am now.”