It feels like it’s been a long time since Reece Oxford first burst onto the scene.
At the tender age of just 16 years and 237 days, Oxford became the second youngest player ever to start a Premier League match when he shackled Mesut Özil in West Ham’s 2-0 victory at Arsenal on the opening day of the 2015/16 season.
The young midfielder earned rave reviews for his man-of-the-match performance and it wasn’t long before some of the biggest clubs in Europe were said to be keeping a close eye on him.
It’s been over four years since that day at the Emirates and that proved to be one of just eight Premier League appearances he would make for the Hammers. His last Premier League start came 1294 days ago. He was substituted at half-time.
In January 2017 he was sent on loan to Reading in the Championship, where he played just five times and was publicly criticised by then-Royals boss Jaap Stam for his lack of “intensity” in training.
Six months later he joined Borussia Mönchengladbach for the first of two separate loan spells but a permanent move to the west German club never materialised and this summer, he joined FC Augsburg in a deal worth £1.8m.
Oxford is no longer the new kid on the block – he will be 21 in December – and he could be forgiven for wondering where it all went wrong at West Ham.
Instead he’s philosophical about the setbacks he’s encountered so far and determined to prove that early promise wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
“I couldn’t even tell you why, I don’t know,” Oxford exclusively told Onefootball when asked why his Premier League dream turned sour so quickly.
“I just thought the club was getting bigger and bigger every season and spending more money every season and I just didn’t feel like I could fit in and have a chance there really.
“I see them signing big and experienced players and I didn’t think there was an opportunity for me. At my age right now I need to play and kick on. I can’t just be sitting on the bench or not playing at all. So I just thought I had to go and look at the bigger picture really.
“I don’t see disappointment, I’m just using it as a stepping stone. Everyone has ups and downs in their career and I’m happy it happened when I was young so I can learn from it.
“I kicked on in my career early and I did all the sitting on the bench when I was 16 and 17 so right now I just feel like I need to play.
“The main thing is to play and obviously I care where I go but I just want to play football week in week out, just to show everyone.”
A number of young English players have found a home in the Bundesliga in recent years, with the first and most high-profile being Oxford’s close friend Jadon Sancho.
So why has England to Germany become such a well-trodden path for promising youngsters over the last couple of seasons?
“The way the Germans are is different to England,” explains Oxford.
“Everyone’s a bit more disciplined here. They’re World Cup winners and everyone is just so professional over here.
“I think they give young players more of an opportunity. If you’re training good and playing good when you do play, they believe in you and they believe in the process and they try to make you the best player you can be.”
Since leaving Manchester City to join Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2017, Sancho has 15 Bundesliga goals to his name, one of which came in a 5-1 thrashing of Oxford’s Augsburg on the opening day of this season.
“I speak to Jadon every week and he’s obviously one of the main players in the league right now. He’s doing good and kicking on,” says Oxford.
“I think he got a goal and an assist against us and it’s very hard to stop him but I just wish the best for him this season as a friend and as a fan as well.
“He’s pushed on into the England first team and I see him as a starter now. I think if I play good here then I have a bigger opportunity to push on into the national team.”
Oxford was born and raised in Edmonton in North London and now lives in Augsburg – a quaint, renaissance city in Bavaria with just 300,000 inhabitants.
The difference between where he comes from and where he now finds himself is stark.
“I stay at home and play games all the time because there’s nothing really to do in this city!” he jokes.
“I live by myself out here so I stay at home or one of my mates might come over from London and stay with me.
“We don’t do much, we just go to the same Italian restaurant all the time.
“It’s completely different to London but that’s another reason why I chose to come out here because London’s a big city and you can get caught in a lot of stuff and you won’t focus as much as you should be. Especially as a young player in the limelight.
“Here’s not too far from Munich so if you want to go shopping or whatever, you can go. But the city is quiet which is perfect for a young player just to focus on what you need to focus on – the football side.”
@Reece Oxford –
When he joined the club in August, Oxford vowed to be speaking German by January, but it’s a language which is proving slightly harder to grasp than he perhaps expected.
“I have two hour-and-a-half lessons a week, so I’m getting there slowly. I already knew a bit of German but I just need to know how to speak it properly,” he says.
“I can understand everything but I just can’t pronounce certain words. I just need to get that over the line and then I’m good.
“The manager speaks half English, half German to me. If we’re sitting down together he will speak some German if he can’t pronounce some of the English words but in training he just speaks German and if I can’t understand I’ll just ask one of the players.
“Most of the time I understand what he’s saying. It’s not that hard to understand the football side of the language.”
Augsburg – managed by Swiss coach Martin Schmidt – finished fourth-from-bottom in the Bundesliga last season with the joint-worst defensive record in the league and currently find themselves two places above the relegation zone after four matches of the new campaign.
But after a busy summer of transfer activity in which they signed the likes of former Juventus and Arsenal defender Stephan Lichtsteiner, Oxford believes they’re capable of finishing in the top 10 this term.
They will face a huge test of their credentials when they welcome Bavarian rivals Bayern Munich to the Augsburg Arena next month.
“That’s probably the hardest game I’ve played,” says Oxford regarding the 3-2 defeat he experienced against Bayern while on loan at Augsburg last season.
“They have World Cup winners in their team and they’ve won the league how many times. Everyone’s experienced in their team and it’s just a good game to play.
“I don’t think we deserved to lose against them last season, we should have got something out of the game. But it was a good experience for me starting that game.”
And what was it like to come face-to-face with Robert Lewandowski?
“Sometimes on camera he might not look tough but if you play against him you can tell when a player is smart and it’s just the little stuff he does like shielding the ball or just his movement.
“You have to stay so focused and that’s one of the games where my concentration was so high.”
It feels like it’s been a long time since Reece Oxford first burst onto the scene and though his career may not have quite gone to plan so far, time is undoubtedly still on his side.