The recent stories coming from both Manuel Pelegrini, as well as, Reece Oxford both seem to indicate that the young England center back will be on his way out of West Ham United. By all accounts this move away from East London will be on a permanent basis.
Oxford’s fall from grace at West Ham might be unlike any young star we’ve seen, including Ravel Morrison. It is a true shame because Oxford showed that he has what it takes to play at the highest level but was failed by his manager. Morrison’s fall on the other hand was of his own doing.
This isn’t to say that Oxford’s work ethic and temperament aren’t also to blame for his fall but I think a bigger factor is the failure of his manager to allow him to develop properly.
We all remember how Oxford put Mesut Ozil in his pocket on opening day and how he performed very well again a week later. Then a down game saw Slaven Bilic give the young center back the hook. Oxford rode the bench for much of the rest of the season.
He was shipped off to Reading on loan where he was roundly criticized by then manager Jaap Stam for being unfit. Clearly, it was a poor loan choice by Bilic as Oxford saw very little playing time at the Championship side.
I will never understand why Bilic gave up on Oxford so quickly after his poor game. He only saw spot duty for the rest that season. The decision to abandon Oxford is especially baffling in hindsight because of the supreme struggles of Jose Fonte that year as well as Angelo Ogbonna’s continued inconsistent play.
It’s more beneficial for the team’s development to have a young player playing games and making mistakes than to have a veteran player make those same mistakes. The abandonment by Bilic I believe started the loss of confidence that Oxford has never recovered from.
Not every player responds to adversity in the same manager and I think it’s clear that Oxford’s drop by Bilic affected his confidence. Jaap Stam’s comments only heightened that.
So after all of this West Ham send Oxford out on loan again. This time to Borussia Munchengladbach in the Bundesliga. A great move as Gladbach has an excellent track record of developing young players especially at center back.
After a difficult start Reece was seeing some first team action and performing well according to reports. It seemed like he was back on track after his disastrous loan to Reading.
However, David Moyes decided to cut his loan move short and bring him back to West Ham. At the time it seemed like an OK decision since it appeared he’d be in line to get some decent playing time. However, that turned out not to be the case. Again his confidence had to have taken another blow.
I don’t think Moyes ever had much of an interest in playing Reece last season. He was coaching for his job and most managers are going to use their seasoned players to try and save their job rather than turning it over to young prospects.
If Oxford had kept on the trajectory he was on at Gladbach he would have returned to West Ham this summer a different player. Full of confidence and ready to fight for inclusion in the first team, much like Grady Diangana and Declan Rice have. Center back and defensive midfield have been problem positions and a confident Reece could have cemented a spot in the first team or at least warranted significant playing time.
To be fair to Bilic, Moyes, and Pellegrini, it doesn’t appear that Oxford has responded to adversity as well as others like Rice have. Yet, I think it’s part of a manager and the club’s management to know your players and how they respond to adversity and what motivates them. No two players are motivated by the same things, some have chips on their shoulders, some need to be coddled more.
Do I think that Oxford would benefit from some thicker skin? Sure, but his manager’s need to realize that he might not be motivated by being criticized and that his work ethic may suffer because of that criticism.
It’s sad to see such a talent be wasted in some very formative year but I think a change of scenery will be beneficial for Reece. It’s a shame, because we could easily have had a star center back but West Ham’s management has failed him. I hope he succeeds wherever he goes but it would have been nice if it was at the London Stadium.