Visions of a brighter future as Oxford graduates with honours

Youngster showed his class in Premier League debut against Arsenal

What were you doing aged 16 years and 237 days? No, I can’t remember either, but it certainly wasn’t anything life-changing like making my Premier League debut, or any kind of debut for that matter. When you put into perspective the average activities of 16-year-olds, it makes the achievements of young Reece Oxford all the more impressive

He made his West Ham fi rst team debut against Arsenal on the fi rst day of this season, and what a performance. His debut sent waves through the footballing world. As happy Hammers fans, we couldn’t be prouder of nurturing this ‘wonder-kid’ and letting him show Özil and co. who’s boss.

For me, I knew he had a good game because I didn’t really notice him. I know that sounds a little harsh and unobservant, but to me it’s a sign that he put in a confi dent performance that was worthy of the fi rst team, in what was a pretty solid team show. His interviews aft erwards, though, showed his teenage excitement and it was refreshing.

His words were professional and balanced but his eyes and his smile told of his pure joy at starting a game for West Ham in the Premier League. When asked about special moments in the game, his reply of: ‘When they brought on Sanchez,’ was a great way to refl ect how much he had to metaphorically pinch himself whilst relying on his more experienced team-mates to keep his feet fi rmly on the ground. Th is dream start came aft er several years of hard work.

Oxford joined West Ham’s academy from Spurs’ to play for the Under 13s. It was only three years before he began training with the U21s and the senior squad. He penned his fi rst professional contract on the same day as teammate Reece Burke, a move which Academy manager Terry Westley believed showed the commitment they have to the club. Westley told the press: ‘Th is makes a statement to other clubs out there that we’re not going to let our best players leave and go elsewhere to ply their trade’ – a statement we all hope to be true .

With Reece’s growing confi dence, he hoped that he would be ready for fi rst team action in time to make his debut at the Olympic Stadium, an expectation that he has already clearly surpassed. He was also given the honor of captaining England’s U17s in the UEFA European Under-17 Championship this year and can proudly say that he reached the quarter-fi nals with the squad. Th ere are, of course, consequences to such a great start in a career.

In this day and age, a young star, especially an English one, can’t have one great game without the hype-machines going into overdrive. Wonderful for living in the moment, but with scouts’ ears widely pinned open, hype is a dangerous game. West Ham want to be that club again, the one that keeps hold of its most valuable teenage stars in hope that they will retain their claret and blue roots and remain with the club through good times and bad. Hence, immediate calls for hushing up about this wondrous Oxford performance.

Slaven Bilic increased calls to dampen the hype, except he came from the angle of protecting a teenager in the game but he’s not stupid, he knows how good an asset this kid is and he doesn’t want Mr. Abramovich. et al getting a whiff of the news. Bilic said: ‘I spoke about him after the Arsenal game, then Monday, Tuesday, Thursday. ‘We are talking about Oxford and it’s not good for me and it’s not good for him. I have no problem doing it but it’s no good for the game on Saturday.

Bilic is right, even though we’re being constantly reminded that Reece is only 16 years old, it’s all so easy to forget thanks to his commitment to the cause and all round ability. No matter what profession we’re talking about, to be 16 years old and ahead of your game is tough and Reece Oxford needs the protection of his family, management, colleagues and fans. He’s got a good role model in Mark Noble, who himself made his full West Ham debut at 17 and was a regular first teamer by the age of 20. Mark has always kept his feet on the ground and has grown to become a greatly loved and respected member of the team. Which leads nicely into what comes next for Reece Oxford. Well, much of the same we’d all hope.

His second appearance against Leicester was less than ideal, but such disappointments can happen to any player at any time. The important thing is that he dusts himself off and doesn’t get too disheartened. It won’t do him any harm to have games like he did against Ranieri’s men – it’ll help his physical development and mental strength. For me, Bilic has got Oxford’s well being firmly in his sights and the plan is to carry on playing him for as long as he can physically and mentally handle; perhaps a rest on the bench every few matches to keep him on his toes.

The future is bright for him if he can continue to work hard. It’d be a real shame if he was a ‘one season wonder’, but with the right management to boost, he’s got the composure and skill to be a longstanding West Ham hero.

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