West London Sport’s David McIntyre reflects on Ebere Eze’s development and departure from QPR – and where the club might go from here.
By last Monday night, it was clear that Ebere Eze was going to be a Crystal Palace player by the end of the week.
A meeting with Les Ferdinand went on long into the evening. For both of them it was a case of reflecting on a mission accomplished.
For south London boy Eze, whose knockbacks on his way to the Premier League have been well documented, it was the realisation of a dream.
Joining Palace was the move he had long wanted – and one which Palace had been lining up for more than two years.
For Ferdinand, whose raison d’être is to return QPR to being a polisher of rough diamonds, a big-money transfer for a player picked up after being released by Millwall four years earlier spoke for itself.
Fulham and West Brom had indicated they might at least match, and possibly surpass, Palace’s offer.
It was the potential bidding war Rangers wanted – and didn’t get with Charlie Austin, Alex Smithies and Luke Freeman.
But with Eze keen to join Palace and the deal more or less worth the £20m QPR had wanted, the decision was made to let him go without further ado.
Eze getting the move he so desired and subsequently excelling at Palace is potentially of huge value to QPR in terms of attracting players in the future.
Palace led the way
Various clubs, including Tottenham and Chelsea, were linked with Eze. But Palace always led the way.
Eagles sporting director Dougie Freedman began his playing career at QPR and has strong relationships with people close to the club.
He was well ahead of the game when it came to Eze and, as early as April 2018, Palace began monitoring the forward – with every intention of snapping him up further down the line.
Several clubs were later declared to be ‘leading the race’ to sign Eze as his reputation grew.
In truth, it was a race Palace led from start to finish.
From Chairboy to man
QPR can take pride in their development of Eze but a major part of his evolution came during a loan spell at Wycombe in 2018.
That move came about after Marc Bircham, then Rangers’ assistant manager, recommended Eze to his former team-mate Gareth Ainsworth – partly because he hoped a successful loan spell would convince boss Ian Holloway to pick him.
Eze moved to Wycombe a virtual unknown but his performances there led to real optimism that he could make his mark at QPR, which he certainly did.
His first two goals for the Chairboys were superb long-range strikes against Cambridge United.
For Eze, knocked back so many times, that game seemed like a watershed moment. The moment he really believed he belonged in pro football. He never looked back.
No hype job
QPR have a terrible habit of massively over-hyping their players, particularly new signings.
It’s usually as a response to criticism or anxiety among fans – often about the club’s previous recruitment failures. It’s been a vicious circle.
From Ward and Ledesma to Washington and Cousins. It’s a long list.
This has backfired a number of times as each new (supposedly) highly-rated much sought-after player hasn’t delivered after the huge fanfare.
So the hype which greeted Eze on his return from a spell in League Two had a familiar feel to it.
But Eze took all the pressure in his stride.
Being given the iconic number 10 shirt – a burden some very talented players at Rangers have found tough to carry over the years – also didn’t faze him.
And he won’t be remotely fussed about the large transfer fee or potentially replacing Wilfried Zaha at Palace.
Eze just goes out and plays
QPR are hoping that Eze’s departure leads to Ilias Chair similarly stepping up to the mark in what seems a big season for him.
There are those at Rangers who feel Chair is a year behind the likes of Eze and Bright Osayi-Samuel in his development.
Time will tell whether that’s on the money or slightly ambitious.
Chair has obvious talent but much of his most eye-catching work still comes in areas where he can easily receive the ball.
In terms of his contribution in tighter areas, as well as in and around the penalty area, his game would need to improve as rapidly as key aspects of Osayi-Samuel’s did in order for Chair to be at a similar level this time next year.
Where do Rangers go from here?
And where might QPR be next year now that their star man has flown the nest?
Rangers fans shouldn’t see selling players as a bad thing.
Brentford, Huddersfield, Burnley and others have been stronger for selling their best players – sometimes to QPR.
For Rangers to progress, they needed to start bringing in serious money for players and then reinvesting wisely.
But Eze is a unique player and they will need to be shrewd at this important crossroads.
They have, as technical director Chris Ramsey has admitted, ‘kissed frogs’ while trying to pick up and develop young talent.
Eze was the regime’s flagship signing. The embodiment of what the Ferdinand-led era was supposed to be about.
They deserve a lot of credit for the way Eze, rejected by other clubs, was picked up and polished into the brilliant player he is.
As with most things in life, though, there was luck as well as good judgement involved.
Eze was touted around clubs and a player with that ability being available doesn’t happen every day. So Rangers were fortunate as well as smart.
The big question is whether his emergence proves to be a sign of things to come for QPR or whether this is, like Eze himself, a one-off.