Should Reece Oxford be a first team regular at West Ham this season?
After breaking onto the scene during the opening weekend of last season with a man-of-the-match display against Arsenal, Reece Oxford is hoping for an even better campaign this year. He has had a good pre-season during a summer in which he has been linked with numerous other clubs. There were rumours that he may leave West Ham on loan, but he has emerged as a contender to start to season as centre back.
He was outstanding in the second leg of the Europa League tie against NK Domzale as the Hammers kept a clean sheet. It was a tricky test for a team still developing their fitness ahead of the season and Oxford showed maturity beyond his years at the back.
The teenager broke through as a holding midfielder last season, but his best position is believed to be centre half and his long term future is going to be in that role. He reads the game well as shown by his ability to step out and make crucial interceptions. Moreover, the defender is an efficient tackler when required. His on ball ability stands out as he is comfortable at playing out from the back, which allows him to launch attacks from deep.
At the club, Oxford’s talent has been known for the last few years and it isn’t a surprise that he is being fast-tracked to the first team squad. His route to a regular first team place is blocked by Winston Reid and Angelo Ogbonna, but he is edging closer to dislodging one of them. Despite his age, Slaven Bilic isn’t afraid to give him responsibility and Oxford is likely to be given more game time this season.
His future has been far from certain over the summer, as there has been a contractual standoff between Oxford and the club. This has alerted other clubs as they sense the opportunity to sign one of the most talented teenagers in England. Manchester City and Manchester United have been linked with a move, while there has been interest from European clubs including Red Bull Leipzig.
They have reportedly put an £18m price tag on the teenager, which is an extraordinary asking price for a 17-year-old, but highlights how highly rated he is. His prominent role this summer after returning from the U19 European Championships suggests that he has a big part to play for West Ham this season, which makes a move away unlikely.
That said, his contract situation needs to be sorted out soon, or West Ham may have no choice but to sell him either in January or next summer. Oxford wants first team assurances after the sale of James Tomkins. The club’s decision not to sign a new central defender speaks volumes about their faith in Oxford. If he gets a lot of first team action over the opening months of the season, his contract talks should go a lot more smoothly and an agreement would likely be found.
As for the start of the season, Oxford is ahead of Ogbonna in terms of fitness and his performance against Domzale should be enough to earn him a place in the team for the opening game. It is a lot harder to break through as a teenager in modern football, especially in defence, but Oxford is a special talent and plays beyond his years. He is already good enough to be a regular in the West Ham back four in terms of ability.
He needs to be managed sensibly by Bilic as he is still young and can’t play every match of the season. As the club have Europa League football they will need to rotate regularly and Oxford should get more minutes than last season. It would be understandable if Bilic opts for experience in the opening match against Chelsea. However, it would be a huge confidence booster for Oxford to be given the nod, helping his contract situation in the process. It would be a risk to start with Oxford, but he has earned it over the summer and has shown already in his short career that he can compete with the very best.
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