The Premier League is seen as the most exciting league in the world and for good reason too. Any team can beat any other and the talent levels are increasing across the league. It may not feature one of the best teams in Europe, with the English teams struggling on the continent in recent seasons, but the product is excellent. The huge television deal has led to increased prices and there is now genuine value in developing your own players through your academy. However, clubs continue to be hesitant about using young players and Reece Oxford’s loan move to Borussia Monchengladbach underlines the flaws in youth development in this country.
Oxford is regarded as one of the best young players in England after starring on his debut at the age of 15. Since then, he has impressed at youth level and shown flashes when he has been given an opportunity, but they have been few and far between. West Ham may believe that they have been protecting the 18-year-old, but they have made signings that have blocked his passage to the first team. Havard Nordtveit was signed last summer and he was average at best. Meanwhile, Jose Fonte was signed in January and the ageing centre-back is past his peak. Oxford should have been given a chance, but he wasn’t and now he has to move to Germany to gain the experience that he needs.
The Hammers tried to keep him in England and let him go out on loan to Reading during the second half of last season, but he wasn’t given much of a chance there either. They were already in a strong position and it was difficult for Jaap Stam to change a winning team. The Bundesliga is famous for developing young players and he will be given opportunities there. There are positives to take from the move as a young English player is experiencing a new culture. That said, it is sad that he has had to leave these shores to get the development that he needs.
How can the Premier League address this problem?
Sadly, it is unlikely they are going to anytime soon. The finances in the game and the demand for success means that it isn’t the best breeding ground for young players. It is more appealing to bring in players from abroad that already have experience. Marcus Rashford is the exception that proves the rule, as he has been excellent in senior football, but he would still be in the Manchester United reserves if it wasn’t for an injury crisis. His last 18 months have shown what can happen when a young player is given a chance.
For clubs outside of the top six, it could be a better long-term plan to invest some of their budget into youth development rather than spend on average imports. Depending on what happens with Brexit, it may become more difficult to bring players in from the rest of Europe and it would be beneficial to have a good academy. The reason why clubs don’t do it is due to it being a long term investment and most teams can’t afford that. The Oxford case highlights how difficult it is for young players to earn an opportunity in England and it is a trend that needs to be changed soon, but that may not happen.