How ex-Arsenal youngster Kyle Ebecilio battled serious illness to return to top level

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Goal's latest mini-documentary tells the story of the Dutch youngster who battled serious illness to return to the top level

Highs, lows, glory, doubts and setbacks. Kyle Ebecilio has been through it all and he’s still only 24.

The Dutch youngster will likely only be remembered by some Arsenal fans as the youngster who never graduated to the Gunners first team, but in reality it could have been different for a player who played a pivotal part in the Netherlands’ U17 European Championship victory in 2011, being named as the tournament’s Golden Ball winner and playing alongside Lyon star Memphis Depay.

“We never expected him to be the best player but in that team all his team-mates saw him as the leader without the captain's armband,” Ebecilio’s father and agent Steve told Goal . “We were very proud.”

Ebecilio, who reveals he looks up to the likes of Patrick Vieira, Paul Pogba, Michael Essien, was just 16 when he joined Arsenal from Feyenoord after turning down big money offers from the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City.

“[Arsenal scout] Bob Arber approached us and asked us if Kyle was ready and willing to come to Arsenal,” said Ebecilio Snr. 

“The first reaction was a surprise that a big English club was interested in Kyle. We immediately asked ‘are you for real? Is this a joke? Show me your card.’ Bob showed us his card and said ‘don’t worry Steve, we really like your son, he has lots of potential and we’d like him to play for Arsenal’.”

“Kyle had offers from other big English clubs as well including Man City and Chelsea. We decided to go to Arsenal for the developmental side. 

“All the other clubs offered us a lot of money to come but Arsenal was not a club that pays a lot of money to players, especially young players. 

“Studying how they developed players in their academy we thought that it would be a good time for Kyle to develop in his career.”

Ebecilio

Kyle’s mother and father left their jobs to head to England six months after their son had joined the Gunners - a decision that was welcomed by the teenager who was forced to acclimatise to his new surroundings without his parents by his side.

“Feyenoord came with a contract after Arsenal came with a contract, so Arsenal was first," he remembers.

“The first two months I couldn’t sleep. It had to be a secret and I couldn’t tell anyone but in school I told everyone!

“At the beginning I was quite scared to go to a new country, new language, new people, new frieinds, being away from my family.

“That period was really hard for me but after six months my parents came and it was a lot easier.”

Kyle’s spell at Arsenal came to an end in 2013 despite the club making a contract offer to keep him. A lack of first team opportunities and with Hector Bellerin ahead of him in the pecking order meant that a move back to the Netherlands seemed like the most realistic option.

His subsequent transfer to FC Twente was one which paid dividends, with Kyle scoring against his boyhood club Feyenoord in only his second game. 

However, he reflects on his time in north London with great fondness for a learning experience which put him on a positive footing going into the future.

“It gave me experience on and off the pitch. Physically I got strong. For example when I went back to Holland with the national team it was just so easy for me because I was used to the style. Off the pitch it made me a man.”

 

After loan spells with Nottingham Forest and ADO Den Haag the following year, Kyle returned to Twente but his playing time was halted after suffering from Guillan-Barre syndrome. The rare disease meant that Kyle was unable to train and made his future in the game unclear.

“Guillan-Barre syndrome is when your immune system attacks your nerves. Some people fully recover but 5 per cent of people die,” said Dr. Jane Pritchard, neurology consultant at Charing Cross hospital and chair of the medical advisory board for the GAIN charity which supports patients with Guillan-Barre.

“The classic presentation is that people start to develop a bit of tingling perhaps in the feet at first and then gradually they become weak. Some people progress very rapidly. Some people within two days might be unable to work but with other people it’s more gradual.

“It really is a question of getting through those initial stages when you’re severely affected and then gradually improving and healing the nerves from whatever your worst point was.”

Kyle Ebecilio talks to Chris Wheatley

In August 2016, Kyle was given the all clear having recovered from GBS. He’s now training with NEC and looking to make up for lost time.

“At the moment I’m 100 per cent fit. I’ve played maybe six games now from January until now. I’m feeling good mentally, physically. I’m ready for my next step.

While Kyle did recover from GBS, his case serves as an example to other players who might be struggling to identify their symptoms.

“I also appreciated that they came to England with me the time I was young. Sometimes you need people who you can talk to and get your mind away from your injury and football.”

“I still have dreams to play in the Premier League but there's still some things I have to first, like play games for a couple of seasons. Then I'll be ready again.”

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