Lost West Ham talent dreaming of England after being “days” from huge transfer
Reece Oxford made his Premier League debut for West Ham United at the age of just 16, and the centre-back has finally found his footballing home in the Bundesliga
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Back in the 2015-16 season, there were few more in-demand English youngsters than West Ham United’s Reece Oxford.
The teenager had made his debut for the London side in a holding midfield role, becoming the Hammers’ youngest ever player in the process, and produced an assured performance to keep Mesut Ozil quiet in a victory over Arsenal. Interest from the Premier League’s biggest clubs felt inevitable, and the London-born star has revealed just how close an exit was.
Ultimately he stayed in east London, but an England call-up – something which felt like a matter of when rather than if – never materialised. It soon became clear to Oxford that he needed to leave the Premier League, and he’s now back on track at Augsburg, playing what he considers some of his best ever football and starting to believe international football could still be in his future.
“There were a few teams I spoke to, the moves were very close, very close,” Oxford, now 23, explains. “It was down to a couple of days where I had to decide if I was staying at West Ham or going away, and I thought the best thing for me was to stay at West Ham.
“I didn’t want to shoot too high too early, so I decided to stay with West Ham, and it’s home for me. I’m a London boy.”
After spending time on loan with Borussia Monchengladbach – a move which West Ham’s then-manager Slaven Bilic wasn’t delighted with – the Englishman made a permanent exit in 2019. Now, though, he appears settled and believes he’s playing some of the best football of his career, with a highlight coming in November when he was part of a team which beat champions Bayern Munich at WWK Arena.
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Oxford credits manager Markus Weinzierl, who took over towards the end of the 2020-21 season and kept Augsburg afloat. This year has seen the team battling against the drop once more – they currently sit just outside the relegation places with 26 points from 26 games – but on a personal level the defender is in a much better place.
Part of this is down to a solid position. Earlier in his career, Oxford was used in midfield, full-back and centre-back, but the heart of the defence is very much his place right now.
“I would like to say [I’m playing my best ever football] because I’m obviously playing every game and it was just about consistency for me,” he says, “Now that I’ve got that and I’m playing every game, I’m starting to show my qualities.
“It was a bit difficult [at West Ham and on loan]. I wasn’t really playing, in and out of the squad, different positions, but from November last season I kind of cemented my spot and made it clear I wanted to play centre-back, and I haven’t really moved from there and I’m just kicking on.”
While he has been asked about potentially returning to the Premier League, the goal right now is committing to his club and maybe, just maybe, exploring the chance of a senior England call-up after games for the Young Lions right through to under-20 level. Still, he’s well aware this can be tougher for those playing outside the Premier League – something which has been brought into even greater focus of late.
England manager Gareth Southgate has been outspoken about another Bundesliga star who has made it into the senior squad, Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham. The former Birmingham City man has had a tougher time of things this season, but nonetheless remains part of the senior England squad and played in both of the recent friendlies against Switzerland and Cote d’Ivoire.
“Our top teams are going to be right at the end of the Champions League every year, the financial power of our league is blowing everyone else out of the water so our big teams are going to be the main players in those competitions as they have been in the last years really,” Southgate said.
“We’ve talked to him about his game this week. There are things, understandably for any player, for him to work on and for him some specifics we are looking for from him. But he is very coachable, wants to learn and is highly motivated.”
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Oxford accepts it might be harder to get noticed while playing outside the Premier League, but he knows it’s not impossible. Bellingham has earned call-ups while with Dortmund, as did Jadon Sancho before his summer switch to Manchester United, while Roma striker Tammy Abraham was named in the most recent squad before injury forced him to pull out.
“I would like to hope so!” Oxford says when asked about senior England hopes. “My stats are proving that I could be on the radar, but I haven’t spoken to anyone and no one’s spoke to me.
“Kyle [Walker-Peters] has just got called up and he’s a good friend of mine, so I’m happy for him. He’s been playing good and he’s got the recognition for it, they’ve called him up and I’m happy for him – hopefully one day I get called up because that’s the end goal for me.
“I think you’ve got more of an advantage when you’re playing in the Premier League, obviously, because you’re in the country of who you’re going to get called up for and it’s easier to get seen. But you see Jude’s doing good out here, Tammy’s doing good abroad, and they’re getting calls up so it’s not impossible, but I think it might just be a little bit more difficult being abroad.”
While things ultimately didn’t work out for Oxford at West Ham, he remains happy for the experience. Indeed, he suggests some of his tougher moments in east London have helped him develop into the player he is today.
“At that age you’re meant to do the gym, the little stuff – the little stuff is really important but I wasn’t doing any of that because I was really on a first team schedule,” he says. “So it was a bit difficult to keep up with everything, but it’s just bumps in your career, and I think I’m learning from that and now I’m doing alright. I learned from it and I know what’s right and wrong, and I’m happy I learned it at such a young age.”
He wants to remind fans that he was still at school when he broke through with the Hammers, while he had stints training with the first team when he was just 14 or 15 years old, and the speed of his rise held him back in other areas. Oxford has also seen Declan Rice step up after starting out in similar circumstances – the England international is just a few weeks younger than his former colleague, and made his first team debut at West Ham one season later – and the Augsburg man reveals he’s still in touch with his compatriot and “happy for him”.
He’s not jealous of Rice’s achievements, praising the midfielder’s consistency, and he’s similarly proud of his current teammates when they earn international recognition while still hoping he’s next. ” I may need to give a bit more and hopefully one day I get the call up,” he says. “I just need to fight a bit more and hopefully people do see me”.