Reece Oxford emergence is boost to West Ham's reputation for bringing talented players through their youth academy

The 16-year-old was brilliant in the 2-0 win over Arsenal at the weekend, writes Sam Wallace

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The Independent Online

At a club that calls itself “The Academy of Football”, it would be no exaggeration to say that for West Ham United the breakout debut of Reece Oxford, aged 16, against Arsenal in Sunday’s win at the Emirates Stadium was not simply a triumph but a relief too.

A club who made their reputation on developing homegrown talent, whether in the 1960s or 1990s, has been struggling in recent years to get players from the academy at Chadwell Heath into the first team. The last to establish themselves were Mark Noble and James Tomkins and they are 28 and 26 respectively. Other clubs have a worse track record, but then very few clubs have West Ham’s tradition in youth development.

When a club have produced England’s only World Cup-winning captain, Bobby Moore, as well as Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Trevor Brooking, Paul Ince, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole and Michael Carrick – to name but a few – the pressure is on the man at the top. Last year the long-standing academy director Tony Carr, now a club ambassador, stepped down and in his place came Terry Westley to oversee the development of Oxford, as well as Reece Burke, 18; Josh Cullen, 19, and Lewis Page, 19 – all of whom have played under Slaven Bilic in the short-lived Europa League campaign.

 

Reflecting on Oxford’s debut, Westley said that the effect at the academy the morning after was instantaneous. “It has been interesting,” he said. “I have seen the boys reading about Reece in the papers and watching Sky. I know what they are thinking, ‘If he can do it then so can I’.”

West Ham are eager that the spotlight does not fall on one young man alone, who at 16 is still not old enough to sign his first professional contract. It is enough to say that Oxford, even at a tender age, has typified the hunger and desire needed to make it to the top. “When he first trained with the Under-18s he was soon saying he believed he could train with the Under-21s,” Westley said. “When he trained with the Under-21s he said he knew he could train with the first team.”

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Oxford was found by West Ham scout Hakim Hussein and it was Dave Hunt, the head of recruitment, who pushed him forward. When his development accelerated over the last year, and other clubs looked covetously on the player, Westley went to the owners David Gold and David Sullivan, as well as vice-chairman Karren Brady, and recommended that they made sure they kept him. There was no hesitation.

The reward was evident on Sunday afternoon and, although just a small step for Oxford, it has put West Ham’s youth development back on the agenda. Westley is a believer in minutely planning a young player’s development and every one of the West Ham academy boys has a personalised set of targets and goals. It is something Westley picked up observing Britain’s Olympic athletes in the build-up to the London Games of 2012.

There is no magic formula to developing players but one thing that is not in question is that a modern academy, under the Elite Player Performance Plan guidelines, costs a lot of money to run, in terms of staff, facilities and pitches. “Clubs are spending big money on their academies and if I was an owner, and an entrepreneur, I would want to see a reward on that money,” Westley said.

“We have boys of nine years old and at the end of it the club has a vision and a strategy to get into the top six. The thought of signing someone like [Dmitri] Payet would never have happened a few years ago. But wages are going up and the quality of players will. It takes a brave manager to put a young kid in and our manager deserves great credit for that. He did that with the Croatia team that he developed from Under-21s to the senior side.”

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Michael Carrick was one of many players to come through the West Ham academy

 

A well-travelled youth development coach, Westley has had success in the past with, among others, Jack Butland, Nathan Redmond and Jordon Mutch at Birmingham; Tom Huddlestone at Derby County; Scott Parker and Paul Konchesky at Charlton; Kieron Dyer and Titus Bramble at Ipswich and John Hartson and Matt Upson at Luton Town.

He believes fervently that the raw talent is still out there in the parks and schools of this country, but the challenge for the new generation is to show the same desire as their predecessors when the rewards come so quickly. Oxford, an Arsenal fan whom Tottenham released, has taken the first step.

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