When Kyle Ebecilio left England in 2013, he probably did not expect that he would return within two years and definitely not to a Championship club. The former Arsenal player would perhaps have felt his return to the Netherlands would have left him better prepared him for another shot at the Premier League as it has done with so many talents before him.
Yet things have not exactly gone to plan and so the 21-year-old’s misfortune has turned out to be Nottingham Forest’s gain, as they have added a supremely talented midfielder to their squad. One eager to prove himself after two years that ended in disappointment at FC Twente.
An Excelsior and Feyenoord academy product, Ebecilio has always been one of the leading talents of his generation. After moving to Arsenal in 2010 at just 16, the Dutch midfielder, who was likened to Patrick Vieira because of his impressive physique and footwork, spent three years in the famed academy of the North London club.
His ability and potential were highlighted in 2011, when he was made player of the tournament at the U17 Euros in Serbia. To stand out in a generation which included incredible talents like Jetro Willems, Tonny Vilhena, Terence Kongolo, Karim Rekik and especially Memphis Depay says enough about how special he appeared. He improved rapidly at Arsenal and was soon seen as a youth player capable of making the step up to the first team.
In the end, Ebecilio decided his route to the top would go through the main competition in his native country. Despite being offered a contract by the Gunners, Ebecilio was looking for playing time and at 19, he decided to return the Eredivisie. PSV were interested and Feyenoord wanted him back, but FC Twente turned out to be most persuasive. With help from Doyen group it was the Enschede club who could offer the youngster a formidable salary (800,000 euros according to rumours). The added promise of being Leroy Fer’s heir in the midfield did the rest.
In his first few months at De Grolsch Veste, Ebecilio was hugely impressive. He showed the same kind of bursts of power and pace as his predecessor, but seemed a more rounded player. A neat passer, with mobility who was comfortable at sitting deeper, FC Twente had done a brilliant piece of business letting Fer go and replacing him with the teenage prodigy. Even a call-up to the national team was mooted by some as the youngster continued to impress. As part of a dominant midfield, Ebecilio revelled as a right-central midfielder. Playing together with Chilean international Felipe Gutierrez, Dusan Tadic and Quincy Promes turned out to be a joy for the technically proficient man mammoth.
Ebecilio could not keep up his superb form for the whole season, but managed to feature in all Eredivisie games in 2013/14. The following campaign was going to be a big one, but Ebecilio was not able to continue his development. The departures of Tadic and Promes, and Gutierrez being ruled out for the season with injury, Alfred Schreuder’s side were weakened and things were getting tougher. There were also changes in the style of play with a more withdrawn midfield set-up, plus the first murmurs of FC Twente’s financial issues creeping up. Ebecilio didn’t look anything like himself.
Being faulted for a complacent and weak attitude by Schreuder, the Rotterdam native disappeared out of the team for a few weeks, before his manager stated that he was ‘on the right track’, saying ‘the penny had dropped’.
Things did not get back to old ways, however. Even though the youngster did get a few games, he was not a regular starter for FC Twente anymore, as Schreuder began to rely on the new next best thing at the club - Renato Tapia.
It was not only Ebecilio who struggled. The whole of FC Twente fell off a cliff in 2015. Their financial troubles had big repercussions, with a lot of staff being let go, including the whole scouting set-up. The Dutch FA punished the club with a total of six points deduction, leaving them in a poisonous position, in which it was difficult for anyone to perform. In the end, the Tukkers finished in the bottom half of the table for the first time in a decade. To clean up the finances, many players were forced to leave.
Ebecilio at first made a statement that he wanted to stay and fight for his place, refuting reports that he was looking for a move. But it soon became apparent that there was no place at Twente anymore for the player that only 20 months earlier had looked every bit the part.
With the financial troubles at the club, Tapia, Mokotjo, Gutierrez and especially the phenomenally talented Ziyech as other options in the midfield, it was always going to get difficult for Ebecilio to fight his way back into the team. His sizable salary made him even more unwanted. And when Jelle van der Heijden, another youngster, was given his chance at the start of the season, Ebecilio knew his time was up. And after links with AC Milan and Hoffenheim in previous seasons, options would be different for the player who is still only 21.
In the end, it was Nottingham Forest that would become his new home. The Reds beat Derby, QPR and Bournemouth to his signature and would be well within their rights to be excited.
Given his age, he still has all the time in the world to develop into what his performances once promised. A tall and strong midfielder who prefers to play from a box to box role, he has all the attributes to be a true asset for Forest. With his powerful charges upfield, he should be comfortable with the physicality of the league and his passing ability is above average too. He has a knack for popping up with goals poses an aerial threat too.
He does have to work on his awareness, as he does not possess the 360 vision yet that trademarks the true great midfielder. The one thing that got him in trouble at FC Twente was a bit of complacency, he is a very talented player but still needs to learn how to dominate a game for 90 minutes.
All that said, if he had possessed all those things he would not end up at Nottingham Forest. Ebecilio is a raw gem that still needs to be polished, but at least there is something to polish with the humble, but confident player. Ebecilio has football running through his family: his cousin and former Chelsea player Jeffrey Bruma now turns out for PSV and former Barnsley man Marciano Bruma is another cousin who has had a professional career.
However, it could be argued that Ebecilio as a youngster was the most talented of them all and he will be eager to live up to that promise. With a year’s loan to prove that and an option to buy for the Tricky Trees, this could well be the start of a fruitful relationship for both the former European Champions.