Reports in the media this week suggest that Manchester City have made an official approach for West Ham United youngster Reece Oxford.
It was almost a year ago since the then-16-year-old burst onto the scene with an imperious display in the Hammers’ 2-0 victory over Arsenal last August, and whilst he has not yet been able to establish himself properly in the club’s first-team, Oxford is still regarded as an immensely exciting prospect. If reports are to believed then Pep Guardiola certainly thinks so, but would a move to Manchester really be the right thing to do at this stage in the 17-year-old’s career?
For starters, despite his impressive displays at the start of last season, Oxford was unable to force his way into the West Ham side for the majority of the season. This, of course, is no slight on the youngster as the Hammers currently possess their best team in years, but it is likely that he will find it even harder to make a difference at City. His versatility gives him an advantage for sure, but in his preferred positions of centre-back and centre-midfield he will still find a plethora of established international footballers in his way at the Etihad Stadium.
Oxford certainly seems to be considering a transfer away from the Olympic Stadium, turning down the offer of a new contract from the Hammers at the end of last season. His manager, Slaven Bilic, is clearly a big fan of the player and the fact that he was left eulogising about the youngster’s potential after the Arsenal game was evidence of this. Following the game, the media hyped up his performance to no end, and it is possible that this, coupled with some bad advice from his agent, has influenced Oxford’s desire to seek a move to a bigger club.
Many who have witnessed his development over the past few years have stated that Oxford is streets ahead of other players of his age, with his former youth coaches claiming that he is the most exciting youngster to emerge from the West Ham academy since Rio Ferdinand. It is not difficult to see why such a comparison has been made. Oxford is remarkably composed on the ball and has the potential to go on to become a fine ball-playing defender in the mould of the former Manchester United man. This may be a big statement to make, but the potential is certainly there.
Young defenders who like to play out from the back will often make mistakes, just as John Stones has over the past season, but it is all part of a learning process which all top players must go undergo. It is surely better that Oxford continues his development in East London where there is less competition for places, as well as the absence of a weighty transfer fee.
Oxford need only look at the experience of Jack Rodwell for a warning of what may become of him should things not work out as planned at Manchester City. Rodwell was regarded as a strong, ball-playing defender with the potential to become an England regular when he made the move down the M62 from Everton in 2012, but endured a difficult two years at City and is now just beginning to find his feet in the Premier League with Sunderland, at the age of 25.
At this stage in his career it is crucial that Oxford focuses on his development as he prepares for a career in professional football. He may have better facilities at his disposal at City, and the prospect of being coached by Guardiola is an alluring proposition for any young footballer but his game time is likely to be limited to cup action as City attempt to challenge for the Premier League title.
Meanwhile, the sale of James Tomkins to Crystal Palace means that Oxford may be afforded more opportunities at West Ham this coming season. Whilst it not imperative that he is playing week in week out at 17, it will certainly do him no harm to gain experience at a well-established Premier League side, without the pressure of worrying about making the odd mistake.
Bilic knows he has a real player on his hands, and if Oxford does wish to move on then the West Ham hierarchy will not allow him to leave on the cheap. A £10 million bid from Bundesliga new boys Red Bull Leipzig was rebuffed this week and it is believed that City will have to bid at least £5 million more before the Hammers even consider selling one of their prized assets. For now, the player’s future is up in the air but one can only hope that he forgets the short-term gains and focuses on what is best for himself in the long run.
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