West Ham have struck gold again.
Their famed Academy appeared to dry up for a few seasons after the likes of Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and RioFerdinand emerged. Before that, decades ago, a steady stream of young talent found their way to the Upton Park first team ranks under the expert and forward thinking tutelage of Ron Greenwood and John Lyall.
Over the past four years of the Allardyce reign, the youngsters were only given their chance in desperate situations, or even forgotten completely. Usually the latter.
However, knocking on the door of opportunity came two or three young players who have enjoyed the spotlight in this season’s first team – none more so than Reece Oxford.
The 17-year-old, an England youth international whose contract expires in 2018, can play centre half or central midfield and his composure on the ball, his maturity and almost innocent debut at Arsenal on the opening day of this season, took everyone by surprise.
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Now the youngster has a queue of clubs all eagerly attempting to sign him this summer. He became the London club’s youngest-ever debutant – at 16 years and 198 days – when he appeared in the Europa League qualifier against FC Lusitanos.
Oxford has a year left on his contract with the Hammers but is likely to be offered improved terms before their move to the Olympic Stadium this summer.
Speaking following that Arsenal victory back in August, manager Slaven Bilic said: “The boy has got everything. Everything. He’s 16 and that is his only disadvantage.
“We are a little short in that position and I wanted someone to sit in front of the centre half. He has a presence, he’s mobile and quick and he can turn and pass the ball, not just square balls.
“We have others around making it a lot easier for him. He’s also a very cool guy. Not fazed or impressed.”
The West Ham boss is convinced that the youngster will have a big future ahead of him, while the West Ham faithful hope that it will be in the colours of the claret and blue rather than any other team.
Whilst first team opportunities have been rare this term, it is thought that Bilic has Oxford in his plans for next year and, alongside Oxford, another defender Reece Burke also figures in the plans of the Hammers boss.
Youth will certainly get their chance at Upton Park and with Martin Samuelsen returning before the summer, the prospects for West Ham’s up and coming stars of tomorrow look very positive. It would be difficult to name another Premier League team where youth are considered as highly prized assets rather than as an income later down the line.
Injuries to first-team players is expected to see Oxford given an extended run in the senior side over the coming weeks after a low-key last few months, but Bilic backs him to perform, stating that he is made of the same stuff that helped Dele Alli come to prominence at Tottenham this season.
“He is young, a kid, we shouldn’t forget that,” Bilic said. “He needs a tap on the shoulder sometimes, but he is very calm, part of that generation that is young and brave and confident. He doesn’t think about mistakes.
“Like Dele Alli, it is very common with young players. You watch Alli on the pitch, every time he gets the ball he wants to pass forward.
“We know he [Oxford] is good, he knows he is good.”
Other teams know that too, but Bilic has issued a hands off warning to potential admirers: “I think he is almost guaranteed to make it,” said Bilic. “He is a great talent and it would take a major negative happening to stop him being an England international.”
“Of course he is a big part of our future, of course he is not for sale.”