The now confirmed arrival of Jose Fonte from Southampton is no doubt one of the main positives so far to come out of this transfer window for the Hammers. Despite Slaven Bilic’s frustrations over Dimitri Payet and the ongoing saga as the club pursue a much needed striker, the Croatian has at least identified one of the club’s major weaknesses and has begun to address it with a solid defensive signing.
Fonte will however only be a short term fix for West Ham’s issues. At 33, he is certainly not the quickest or the most agile of centre halves but he should provide the composure and organisation the Hammers have been missing at times this season. I do think though that it could be a missed opportunity for Slaven Bilic to try something a bit different. West Ham have always been a club which has encouraged youth, and many players have broken through to the first team at very young ages.
Rio Ferdinand was one such player. At the age of 17 he made his senior debut for the Hammers and at 19 he had already been named the club’s player of the year. Players like the former England international don’t come around very often but it is important to emphasize that the chance to learn and gain experience at a top level at an early age played a key role in his development.
Now, I am not going to compare the two, far from it, but Reece Oxford is certainly one of West Ham’s most highly regarded young prospects. With Fonte’s likely arrival it does mean that Oxford (who primarily is a centre back despite playing for Bilic in midfield) will move down the pecking order one more notch.
Some will say that his development may be better spent in the Under 23 side, or out on loan out of the spotlight, but if he is to become as good a player as people hope, it is important that Bilic begins to slowly increase his first team game time to get that experience he needs.
He has so far played just two Europa League qualifiers this campaign as he has been sidelined with ankle injury since late October, but he did return to the bench for the match against Crystal Palace last week.
West Ham have conceded three goals or more in a match eight times already this season, and the manager’s lack of faith in the backline has been demonstrated by his constant switching from a back three to a back four. Angelo Ogbonna was taken off at half time last week to make way for Sam Byram to switch to a back four once again.
Oxford and Fonte could be a potential partnership in a back four or as part of a back three. His athleticism and pace would combine well with Fonte’s heading and marking abilities. Learning from an experienced international would be an excellent opportunity for Oxford. Whether Bilic considers such a radical step is uncertain.
The safer bet would be to go with two experienced heads in Winston Reid and Jose Fonte. Bilic needs their know-how and organisational abilities to improve the club defensively, but considering West Ham’s inability to consistently keep clean sheets as a back four or a back three, Oxford may get his chance in upcoming matches and who knows under the guidance of a real pro like Jose Fonte, Reece Oxford may just accelerate his development and become the top defender that many have projected him to become.