LONDON • West Ham United's Reece Oxford reckoned he had enjoyed "a dream debut" after becoming, at 16, one of the youngest players ever to make a winning bow in the English Premier League.
The teenage midfielder, rated one of the best football prospects in England, had a splendid game in midfield as West Ham earned a surprise 2-0 opening weekend victory at Arsenal on Sunday .
The gangly Oxford, who has already captained the England Under-17 side, was entrusted with a starting place as a defensive midfielder by the Hammers' new manager Slaven Bilic.
And the Croatian was rewarded for his faith with an exceptional display by the youngster who helped nullify Arsenal's star-studded engine room.
"Put it this way," said Bilic, a hard-bitten former international. "If Messi was in front of me, I would be more fazed than Reece!"
Reece Oxford became the seventh youngest
player to appear in the English Premier League
at the age of 16 years and 237 days against
Arsenal yesterday. Here are the youngest three.
16 YEARS 65 DAYS
Matthew Briggs became the youngest player
when he played for Fulham against
Middlesbrough in 2007 and, though the
left-back was watched by many clubs, he now
plays for Colchester United.
16 YEARS 117 DAYS
Izzy Brown played for West Bromwich Albion in a
3-2 defeat by Wigan Athletic on May 2013 but
has since moved to Chelsea,whomhe helped to
the FA Youth Cup last season. He joined Vitesse
Arnhem on loan this summer.
16 YEARS, 129 DAYS
Aaron Lennon could not help Leeds United in a
2-1 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur in August
2003. He moved to the north London club two
years later and has won 21 England caps. He
joined Everton on loan in February.
Oxford was so impressive that his experienced team-mate, New Zealand international Winston Reid, could only smile as he told Sky Sports: "He's been brilliant. He's only 16 but, I mean, look at him, he's bigger than me and probably better than me!"
Sky pundit Graeme Souness, a former Scottish international, enthused: "He was fabulous and for a 16-year-old his performance bordered on the ridiculous."
After barely misplacing a pass and earning the free kick from which West Ham went ahead, Oxford, who was given a standing ovation after being replaced in the 79th minute, could barely stop smiling.
"It was a dream debut," said Oxford, who revealed that Tottenham Hotspur rejected the chance to sign him before he joined West Ham.
"It's an honour really to play for West Ham and be their youngest player."
Oxford, who is scheduled to receive his GCSE results next week, is a fine defender but Bilic was confident to let him patrol World Cup winner Mesut Oezil, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla in midfield.
"It was going to be a risk but he has got something," said Bilic.
"I thought we need someone to sit in front of the defence who is cool and can be a third defender, but who can also play on the ball.
"I am very proud of him. People were asking 'are you sure he is 16'?"
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN