Reece Oxford interview: Don't blame the managers, blame the players, says West Ham's bright young thing

The defender speaks exclusively to The Independent about life as a young professional - and the expectation that comes with it

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When Reece Oxford was released by Tottenham’s academy system five years ago, the very first thing he did was return to his local Sunday league team. As a 12-year-old the set-back would have been devastating but, as Oxford recounts, all he was focused on was "bouncing back". 

His determination paid off - much quicker than expected - and three days after joining up with his old team-mates, Oxford answered a phone call from West Ham. Five years later, and with numerous first-team appearances to his name, the youngster hasn’t looked back since.

Speaking to the 17-year-old, it becomes apparent that this focused determination and resilience has helped instil him with a striking level of maturity absent from players nearly twice his age.

It is his candid remarks about the "unfair" criticism that managers currently face, however, that really belies his youth. At a time when managers are scrutinised and dissected by the media, Oxford stresses that it is the players themselves who should be bearing the brunt of such criticism. 

"Everyone focuses in football now on the managers a bit more than the players. I think that's a bad thing,” he says. “Before games you used to just focus on the players and the players you play, and their job. But now everyone is just focusing on the managers.”

Jose Mourinho certainly springs to mind. As Manchester United have struggled to find their true form in recent weeks, the 53-year-old has been thrust into the limelight. In trademark Mourinho fashion, the Portuguese hit back at his critics, attacking the “football Einsteins” who have attempted to “delete” the last 16 years of his career.

"It will always go back down to the manager,” Oxford reiterates. “Like us, right now, everyone's asking [Slaven Bilic] the manager [what's going wrong] but sometimes it's not the manager, it's us as a team.

“We need to work harder in the games and need to play as a team. Everyone just needs to be together. That's what you need. You don’t just need a manager but a team that is together.”

Reece Oxford became the second youngest Premier League player in history when he started for West Ham against Arsenal last season (Getty)

Either way, there’s no hiding that West Ham have endured a torrid start to the season. Bilic’s side are languishing in the relegation zone, having won just one game from their opening seven league matches.

After the embarrassment of a 3-0 loss to Southampton two weekends ago, Mark Noble openly criticised the side’s performance as "laughable".

“Eleven goals [conceded] in three games is laughable and it's not good enough,” he said afterwards.

But while Noble conceded that the move to the London Stadium may have affected the recent dip in form, Oxford refuses to accept that as an excuse.

"I think you can't really blame the stadium for our losses but you could say maybe we're not used to this environment, new players coming in, and just not used to being in such a good stadium as this,” he adds.

"But once we get a win we'll push on. As soon as we get three points I think our confidence will go up and then we'll be back to normal. And hopefully I can be a part of that.”

Reece Oxford - West Ham's bright young thing (Getty)

Oxford appears similarly relaxed about the expectation that now hangs over his own head.

Dismissing his label as "a future England great", the player insists that he will be taking one step at a time as he attempts to establish a name for himself. 

For now, that means proving his worth to West Ham and helping his side return to winning ways. While the lure of fame and fortune may spur him down another route in the years to come, for now, at least, Oxford continues to remain refreshingly grounded at a time when football has become saturated with money-driven egos.

"I don't really take it in. If someone says to me 'you're going to be this, you're going to be that', I will say 'I haven't really done anything',” he says at the launch of Fifa 17. 

“I don't know about what I'm going to be. I hope I'm going to be a good player, but you never know. Hopefully I can just get game time and play, and prove to everyone.

"I won't say this or that, I don’t know yet how good I am.” And despite spending a considerable amount of last season on the bench - the youngster made a total of nine appearances under Bilic last year - the 17-year-old says that he is just happy to be a part of the club.

Reece in training at West Ham (Getty)

"I was just happy to be in and around the team, being in the 16, being in and around a Premier League team. I got nine games, I came on a couple of times in the Prem, a couple of times in the cup games. What else can you wish for?”

But despite his best efforts to play down his growing reputation, the youngster has already caught the eyes of the Premier League’s heavyweights with Manchester United, among others, believed to be monitoring the defender’s situation at West Ham.

As for his international career, the 17-year-old has risen through the ranks in the England set-up, playing for all age groups right up to the U20s. Oxford even captained his country at the 2015 UEFA European U17 Championship, leading his side to the quarter-finals.

He confesses that, like any teenager on the brink of footballing fame, he holds high aspirations for the future.

"Hopefully in five years’ time I’ll just be playing football, and captaining my club and my country. Or being in and around my country.”

Oxford has risen up through the ranks with the England set-up (Getty)

In the meantime, however, he’s quite content in making a name for himself among the West Ham faithful. He admitted that he one day hopes to be revered by the club’s fans in the same way Dimitri Payet is.

“Just watching him, and seeing how people are, how all the fans love him, I aspire to be that [where] the fans love me, and be like a hero to them.”

While the comparisons between Dimitri Payet and Reece Oxford won’t be drawn any time soon, the 17-year-old has already been tipped to follow in the footsteps of former West Ham academy graduate Rio Ferdinand. Physically imposing like Ferdinard, Oxford also started his career as a striker.

The defender admits that the comparisons were flattering: "Yeah, he's done exactly the same as me so that’s why a lot of people compare me to him. 

Reece Oxford spoke ahead of the launch of Fifa 17 (EA Sports)

“He came into West Ham as a striker and then he got moved to centre-back. I think the West Ham fans, and everyone, just wants me to have a good career as he did. So hopefully I can do that or maybe even better."

Although the young Englishman may have a long way to go before he’s held in the same regard as Dimitri Payet or Rio Ferdinand, you can’t help but think that a promising future lies ahead for the young Reece Oxford.

Reece Oxford was speaking at the launch of EA SPORT FIFA 17, out now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and all other formats. To find out more visit #FIFA17