Like many before him, Reece Oxford’s reputation has rapidly gone from England’s most exciting young talent to yet another youngster struggling for regular first team opportunities in the Premier League.
His debut against Arsenal, in which he had Mesut Ozil in his pocket for much of the game, seemed to herald a new era for West Ham’s famed Academy of Football. So many years had passed since we could honestly boast of a world class talent coming through our ranks and becoming a star, and Oxford took the country by surprise just as much as did West Ham fans.
Two years on from his Emirates masterclass, though, Oxford can only boast six more first team appearances for West Ham and a failed loan spell at Reading. Now he is beginning a season-long loan with Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach.
Having signed a new four-year contract at the club last December, to ward off interest from the likes of Arsenal, Man United and Chelsea, we all believed his time had finally come. Instead, his most recent move away just confuses us further.
The way Slaven Bilic threw him in to the deep end and then carefully protected him from the limelight was seen as wonderful man management at the time, but now we’re all wondering why Bilic doesn’t think he’s good enough for a first-team spot any longer. What has he seen that we haven’t, or is his judgement not as good as we initially believed? Whatever the reasons behind Bilic’s decision to loan Oxford out again, the decision to send him to the Bundesliga may just prove to be a masterstroke, if not ridiculously baffling at the same time.
We all know about Germany’s reputation as a footballing nation. They’re current world champions and take pride in developing youth, whether that be players or young coaches. Their World Cup winning team of 2014 consisted of a large percentage of players who had been developed as young players through every international age grade together — in short, they were developed and nurtured into world beaters in a very short space of time but with a very specific focus.
That kind of development will remain strong in Germany as they now know it’s a proven and workable model to base its nation’s future in the game. It’s the kind of development English clubs either aren’t very good at or simply ignore, with the odd exception.
So Reece Oxford’s season in Germany should only do him good at the very least. At the very most it will help him develop and grow into the player we are all expecting him to be. A quick search on Oxford’s Twitter page will show you that he’s grasping the opportunity and experience with both hands and the early signs are that he’s going to come back a more complete player next summer. That is obviously what the club will have intended when deciding Monchengladbach was the perfect place for him.
Oxford, and of course the club, could also take confidence in a number of players who have used the Bundesliga to either develop as players or reinvent themselves both on and off the pitch. The most obvious one is Kevin De Bruyne, who spent a season on a loan at Werder Bremen while he was at Chelsea before signing for Wolfsburg permanently a year later.
Two years later he was back in the Premier League with Manchester City, who paid £55m for him. But the most notable, yet forgettable, good example is Serge Gnabry.
During a loan spell at West Brom during the 2015/16 season, Tony Pulis publically claimed the German didn’t have the required ability to play for the club. Arsenal sold him to Werder Bremen the following summer before Bayern Munich signed him in June this year.
The defender had gone from supposedly not being good enough for Tony Pulis’ West Brom to being signed by one of the biggest clubs in the world, all via a season in the Bundesliga. Such examples bode well for Oxford who has the talent to make it to the very top.
One of those has already left, the other is 34-years-old and simply not good enough at this level anymore. This summer Bilic chased William Carvalho and Eliaqiuim Mangala before the transfer window shut — both players in positions Oxford is capable of playing. The club is clearly trying to spend money on positions that could be filled with youth and that is a frustrating fact.
Whether that proves to be the right decision in the long term remains to be seen, but Oxford will undoubtedly return to England a better player — whether he’ll be good enough for Bilic, though, will be another matter altogether.