This weekend saw the debut of 16-year-old Reece Oxford, the second-youngest player in Premier League history and still four months away from his 17th birthday.
It wasn’t just any game for West Ham United to slot the youngster in, not a throwaway cup tie, a late season fixture with nothing to play for or out of desperation because of injury. It was the first game of the season against a hotly-tipped Arsenal side.
And he impressed. Massively.
But that’s not what I’m wanting to write about today. Oxford deserves all the plaudits coming his way and should he keep grounded, he could develop into a very talented player. What I wanted to write about was clubs putting more faith in their youth products because more often than not, it works.
Looking at clubs who’ve decided to give their academy products a chance in the last few years, it’s not hard to see the upturn in success. The most obvious being Tottenham Hotspur last year, allowing Harry Kane to develop into a potentially world class goalscorer if he can continue on the same standards.
It wasn’t just Kane either, Ryan Mason (although a little older) and Nabil Bentaleb were given more prominent roles and they thrived. They became mainstays in their midfield and could be fixtures with the club for the next five years at least.
Southampton have leaned on their academy in recent years, producing talent that have elevated them to the next level. Youngsters like Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chammberlain and Gareth Bale have all come through their ranks and whilst some did more whilst at the club than others, their policy of giving them a chance is what helps them grow into international footballers.
There’s a few more examples, Tim Sherwood using Jack Grealish more often at the end of the season contributed to their upturn of form. Ross Barkley is another example, although used a little more sparingly than hoped but is still being given the chance.
Some other clubs aren’t afraid of trying a few youngsters, Liverpool haven’t shied away from using players like Raheem Sterling, Jordan Ibe or Joe Gomez early on despite their age. They may not have come through the academy but the use of up-and-coming English talent can only help their development and the options for the national side.
Teams may have to overpay, especially if they are English talent, but there’s more cases of it working than not. Smaller clubs are also realising that, rather than pay a premium, they can produce their own that if they can’t grow with, they can at least command a good fee for.
The trust that’s being shown in young players is a positive we fail to highlight often enough. The old phrase might be “if they are good enough, they’ll play” but that homage doesn’t always ring true with every manager in the Premier League. Sometimes, even when the going gets tough, trusting in the prospects you might have can reap great rewards.