The January arrival of former Southampton skipper Jose Fonte to replace Angelo Ogbonna is terrific business for West Ham – and could prove crucial in developing our young defenders. Not only have we replaced an international defender with a player who shone on Europe’s biggest stage in the summer to help his country to Euro 2016 glory, we have also captured a leader of men, something we lack at the back at times.
Ogbonna, of course, deserves a great deal of praise for playing through the pain barrier for the cause. But with us now left with only three recognised experienced centre backs in James Collins, Winston Reid and Fonte, you feel it is only a matter of time before our young defenders get their chance to shine.
Two of those three are entering their twilight of their career, and looking to fill their void when their time finally comes to an end is a pair of Reece’s in Burke and Oxford. Burke, currently on loan at Wigan, has received rave reviews wherever he has been on loan. He even scooped seven trophies at Bradford’s end of the season awards following his successful loan stint there last year.
Now in Lancashire, he has been plying his trade in the Championship and even bagged himself a goal from right back for the Lactics live on Sky. Whether the decision to play him at full-back was West Ham’s or Wigan’s remains to be seen, but it could well prove a masterstroke in aiding the youngster’s career in the long-term. Our issue at right-back is well documented and we only have Sam Byram as a natural in the position.
And while it may seem obvious to see Burke as a potential replacement for Collins in the future perhaps Bilic has other ideas for the Newham-born defender. More natural in the heart of the defence, Burke has height, coolness and presence in the box, which has led to the Hammers having such high hopes for the youngster. Indeed, it is hoped that Oxford and Burke will link up and be the heart of our defence for many years to come, and that is why the experience of Fonte, Reid and Collins will all prove crucial in the next couple of years.
The trio will play a huge role in developing two of the hottest prospects in our famed academy. Of course, all three of them are different, Collins is the never-say-die body on the line defender, Reid is an exceptional reader of the game, and Fonte has leadership and tactical nous.
If any of that experience and qualities rubs off on Burke and Oxford we are in for a treat. Our academy has struggled recently, but with Josh Cullen, Toni Martinez, Burke, Oxford and Domingos Quina suddenly everything is looking rosy again as we seek the future Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Rio Ferdinand.
Burke for me is the most promising of the lot, having seen him play in early season matches against Juventus and in the Europa League. To me, he seems like an obvious future first-teamer alongside Cullen and Oxford.