Last Word on Football’s EFL ones to watch series takes a look at Football League players who could earn a lucrative move in the next transfer window, whenever that may be.
First, we profile a man who makes watching midtable Championship football a delight – Eberechi Eze. Queens Park Rangers fans are unlikely to see their team break into the top six if the season finishes. But they’ve had the joy of watching star man waltz through defenders with an ease not seen at Loftus Road since the glory days of Adel Taarabt. His 12 goals and eight assists are a huge reason why QPR are one of the most watchable teams in the league.
EFL Ones to Watch: Eberechi Eze
From a Part-Time Contract at Tesco to a Professional Deal at Loftus Road
After being released by Millwall in 2016, Eze was set to start working part-time at Tesco. However, he impressed the R’s in a trial and signed for them just a few months after leaving the Den. Last year, Eze told Talksport that he could understand why Neil Harris released him. “You could see in training and in matches that I wasn’t their typical type of player.”
The Greenwich-born magician may not have fit in with Millwall’s direct style, but he’s certainly found a home at Loftus Road. Eze spent the first half of the 2017-18 season on loan in League Two with Wycombe, and it was obvious that he was too good for the fourth tier.
He became a regular in January 2018 after returning to West London, and he’s gone from strength to strength since then. Nowadays, he’s undisputably Rangers’ star man. Plenty of Premier League clubs will be sniffing around him when the transfer window opens.
A Sparkling Season
2017-18 was Eze’s breakthrough campaign, 18-19 was his coming of age, and 19-20 has been the season where he’s announced himself to many as the best player outside the Premier League. Whether it’s a barnstorming 70-yard run to win a penalty at Hull, or a stunning free-kick to give his side the lead at Wigan, Eze has consistently conjured up moments of individual brilliance that sets him apart.
Not only does he take players on, but he’s also capable of releasing his teammates with a perfectly timed pass. The 21-year-old will often draw opposition defenders in, and as well as being such a terrific dribbler, he still plays with his head up and has the intelligence to pick out a fellow Hoop in a better position.
The stats also reflect Eze’s brilliance. He’s scored 12 goals this season and set up eight – highly impressive figures for somebody who is not a striker. The former Millwall man averages three successful dribbles per match. That’s a figure only bettered by Said Benrahma and Ovie Ejaria. His pass completion rate is 86.4% – a number you’d expect from a holding midfielder who plays for a possession-dominant side, not an attacking midfielder who has to try more risky passes.
Another string to Eze’s bow is his versatility. He’s featured on the left in 14 games this season, which allows him to start wider and drift infield onto his stronger right foot. The Wycombe loanee has played just behind the striker ten times, and he’s also featured as a conventional central midfielder on nine occasions.
QPR may find themselves in a modest position of 13th, but they’ve scored 58 goals so far this term. That’s the third-best record in the division. A lot of their attacking success is down to Eze’s relentless creativity.
What Next for Eberechi Eze?
It’s pretty obvious that QPR’s star man won’t be at Loftus Road next season. Mark Warburton managed to keep him in Summer and January, but the sharks will be circling whenever the transfer window re-opens. The Daily Mail and The Sun reported that Spurs are favourites to sign him. They claim Sheffield United and Crystal Palace have also been interested, but QPR’s £20 million price tag has put those clubs off.
The sky is the ceiling for this young man, and he’d be a fantastic signing for any of those clubs. Spurs developed Dele Alli superbly, but you’d have to question whether Jose Mourinho would be the best manager for a talent who thrives in an attacking-minded team. Eze would probably be an exciting addition for any club outside the top two. He just needs to go somewhere where he’ll get plenty of playing time, and have the license to play with freedom.
England or Nigeria?
If Eze gets his move to the Premier League and manages to cope with the step up, then he could spark an international tug of war. The Spurs target was born in London, and he was part of Aidy Boothroyd’s England Under 21 squad in the European Championships last year.
However, through his ancestry, Eze is eligible to play for Nigeria. England have plenty of attacking-minded options in central midfield, but this time next year the Millwall academy product could be an established performer in the Premier League. And if Euro 2020 is delayed until next year, there’s every chance Gareth Southgate will want him in his squad.