Deji Elerewe has revealed how being released by Crystal Palace helped conquer the nerves which affected his early playing days.
The 18-year-old Charlton centre-back won League One’s LFE Apprentice of the Year award at the EFL Awards ceremony in Park Lane on Sunday.
Elerewe, who was nominated along with Lincoln City’s Freddie Draper and Crewe’s Michael Williams, made his first-team debut against AFC Wimbledon in August and signed his first professional contract in November, which runs at least until 2024.
He is the third Charlton player to claim one of the EFL’s apprentice accolades – the other two were Jordan Cousins and Ademola Lookman.
“I was ecstatic to win the award,” he told the South London Press.
“I don’t like talking in front of cameras so I was relieved I could just smile and show my happiness that way. I was dreading doing a speech.
“The season has gone very well. I set a goal to play some first-team games and thought I might have to break my way into it and get a few at the end of the season, so I didn’t expect to get them so early.
“I played well against Celtic in a pre-season friendly and Nigel Adkins, the old gaffer, gave me an opportunity. He told me if I kept playing well then he would keep on playing me.”
Elerewe has made 11 appearances in the current campaign, featuring in all four of the club’s senior competitions, and would likely have had more involvement in recent months if the Croydon-born centre-back had not been recovering from a knee operation.
The keyhole surgery involved three incisions, removing cartilage that had been causing discomfort in the joint.
Elerewe made his return on Monday for the U23s in a 4-0 victory at Crewe.
He started playing at Selsdon Juniors and trialled at Chelsea before signing for the Eagles. He had five years on their books before being let go at U12 level.
“They just said I wasn’t playing well enough,” said Elerewe. “To be fair it was the best thing that happened to me. I was always nervous playing games and I had no confidence. I had a feeling I would get released because nothing was going right for me.”
A spell with Kinetic Foundation followed.
“It made me come out of my shell and I became a better player,” said the South Londoner. “Something switched. I was working hard and wanted to prove them [Palace] wrong. Almost ‘you released me and now I’m doing this’ because it is hard to get back into the system.
“Bert Dawkins [a Charlton scout] saw me and I went into their development team for six weeks and then got moved into the main academy once I was U13.”
Elerewe’s assured displays earlier this season led to claims that West Ham United were interested in taking him away from SE7 – for minimal compensation – before he committed his future. Asked about the speculation, Elerewe said: “I was aware of it, but not too much because I wanted to stay at Charlton.
“I’ve seen what the club have done with the likes of Joe Gomez and Ademola Lookman. I know with the manager and set-up here that they are good at developing young players.
“My vision for the future is just to play as many games as possible next season, keep on improving and make my international debut for either England or Nigeria.”
PICTURES: PAUL EDWARDS