Eberechi Eze puts injury hell behind him as he eyes England super-sub role at Euro 2024

Fate had its cruel way with Eberechi Eze in the run-up to the last European Championship, when he famously learned of his call-up to Gareth Southgate’s provisional squad by text message in the dressing room at Crystal Palace’s training ground, moments after rupturing his Achilles.

Instead of potentially being part of England’s run to the Wembley final, he watched the whole campaign with his foot in a cast.

"In that time you're overthinking it because it was my first big injury, so I was just like, ‘Oh, imagine if I was there’ or whatever,” he said, reflecting on the ordeal at England’s training base here in Blankenheim on Thursday.

“That was another tough experience and a tough part of it. But I think those types of experiences make you stronger, they build your character and they give you more strength going forward.”

This time around, having finished another injury-disrupted campaign in superb form for the Eagles, Eze has edged ahead of established names like Jack Grealish, James Maddison and Marcus Rashford to make Euro 2024 in his first major tournament squad, and he showed no signs of international nerves in last week’s friendly win over Bosnia & Herzegovina.

It is the latest episode of triumph over adversity for a player let go by Arsenal, Fulham, Reading and Millwall as a youngster, before finding a route into the professional game at QPR, though he insists there is no score-settling at play now.

“I try my best to let go of stuff that has happened before,” he said. “When I got the text this time it was just gratitude. Just being grateful to be in this position now because I know so many people who would love to be here as well.

“I’m not seeing it as being fortunate or lucky to be here. I’m seeing it as the hard work I’ve put in that has got me here. I’m ready to work and do my thing, give my all. That’s the main thing for me, enjoy the moment, not looking back at what’s gone before.”

For all those teenage rejections were demoralising - “It’s a good question!” he laughed, when asked why a talent so obvious now was ignored so often - it is the Achilles tear that Eze rates as the “biggest test I’ve experienced”.

“I remember speaking to loads of people,” he explained. “There were so many different timeframes, they would say six months, nine months. I was hearing about a gymnast [Russia’s Artur Dalaloyan] who came back in three-and-half months. So my mindset was: whatever he’s been doing I’m going to do that as well.

“The physio that I had, [Crystal Palace’s] Oliver Waite, helped me even more. I didn’t understand anything about the injury, what it took to get back, but his approach was: ‘It’s going to be tough but as long as you put in the work every day, you are disciplined and dedicated to achieving that goal, you will do it’. I’m eternally grateful to him for sure.”

With the likes of Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham around, Eze appears unlikely to start Sunday’s opener against Serbia, but his creativity and flair mark him out as a candidate to be this summer’s Grealish figure, an impact substitute for whom clamour grows as the tournament progresses. It is a role he is ready to embrace.

“You win the tournament as a collective,” he said. “It’s not just the 11 players who have started so everyone is ready.”

“[Southgate] spoke about finishers, we call them finishers, we know that. The players that come onto the pitch, there is a mentality about it, there’s a way to go about it. There’s importance in that role, it’s not just about the XI.”