Queens Park Rangers youngster Stephen Duke-McKenna has admitted he was stunned to learn he was being released by Premier League giants Everton in summer 2018, speaking to the Liverpool Echo.
Just a few months before that fateful day, when Duke-McKenna’s world fell apart, the Liverpool-born midfielder had come within touching distance of making a first-team appearance in Everton colours.
He was included in the match-day squad as the Toffees took on Apollon Limassol in the Europa League group stages in December 2017.
And, with the number 68 on his back, he almost got off the bench too, only for fellow teenager Anthony Gordon to get the nod instead.
Nearly four years on, Gordon is looking to force his way into the Everton side on a more regular basis – he featured against Aston Villa on Saturday – but that winter trip to Cyprus was the closest Duke-McKenna came to making his dream come true.
Can Duke-McKenna show Everton what they’re missing?
“I’m quite laid back but nobody expected it (his Everton exit), nobody around the club expected it,” said the now 21-year-old Duke-McKenna, an eight-time Guyana international who put pen to paper at QPR in 2019.
“When I got told, I thought I had had one of my best seasons (in the youth sides) and I’d had the first-team call up. So I was like: ‘How?’
“They had their reasons for it (but) I don’t know the reasons for it. When they had me in the room they asked: ‘Do you want to say anything?’
“All I was thinking in my head was ‘it’s your loss, not mine’ and ‘you’ll see what I become’ because I believe in myself.
“No point complaining about it, go and do something about it – that’s my mindset. These setbacks drive me. I’ll prove myself right and you wrong.”
Duke-McKenna may have the perfect chance to do just that as QPR host Everton in the EFL Cup third round tonight.
He played almost half an hour in the 2-0 victory over Oxford United in round two.