Westley outlines Academy plans

Mail Online deputy sports editor Matty Lawless talks to Academy Director and Head of Coaching and Player Development Terry Westley

Mail Online deputy sports editor Matty Lawless talks to Academy Director and Head of Coaching and Player Development Terry Westley...

When Terry Westley arrived at West Ham 18 months ago he put his ‘neck on the block’.

He had to. Following the man who had manufactured a production line of England internationals spanning across four decades was never going to be an easy feat.

Westley knew there would be immediate questions. For instance: ‘Where’s the next Rio Ferdinand?’

Fortunately, within three months of taking over as Academy Director in 2014, Westley had discovered the answer to that.

The heir to Tony Carr’s guardianship had found ‘the one’.

The one who would restore the club’s proud reputation as ‘The Academy’.

The one? Reece Oxford.

“From experience, you need just one to kick it off,” says Westley.  “When I arrived, I put my head on the block with Reece and said I’m having him.”

Oxford was just a schoolboy at the time who hadn’t even taken his GCSEs. Yet he was being courted by some of the best clubs in the country, all desperate to steal his signature.

Westley knew he nor West Ham could afford to take the risk of losing ‘the one’. And so, Oxford was fast-tracked into the Development Squad and handed the captaincy. At 15.

“I took some stick for that,” confesses Westley. “Some of it was from the players who Reece had stepped over, who I knew that when their contracts were up they were going to leave.

“Yet working with Reece Oxford for three months I just knew that this boy needed pushing.

“The challenge for him and any elite athlete or great performer is that they need stimulation. Reece got that by being named my Under-21 captain at just 15.

“The owners, to be fair, backed me right up. When Manchester City, United, Chelsea and Arsenal came for Reece Oxford at 16, we didn’t flinch. He could see with us he had a chance. And that bared fruit by him playing in the first game of the season.”

Since Oxford’s incredible Premier League debut at Arsenal last August, he hasn’t returned to the Development Squad to train. He remains their captain but his place is with Slaven Bilic’s squad, rubbing shoulders with Academy graduates James Tomkins and Mark Noble; the latter of whom is hosting an all-star Testimonial match next month in tribute for his service to the Club.

“Reece can’t train in our group because he would take a step backwards,” Westley explains. “He now has to train with the first team. So every day he has [James] Collins, he has [Winston] Reid and he has [Mark] Noble all after him. If he’s not doing anything properly, they’re coming after him. He can’t afford a bad day. He’s taken all of that on board and now moving to another level.

“When Reece made his debut, he stood in the tunnel at Arsenal and looked around him. He knew this is where he should be.

“He wanted to be at the Colosseum, standing in front of a full house. He didn’t want to be at a pub singing in some small gig. He wanted the main event. And that’s how he played. And that’s what he believes in.

“We have a four-year plan for all of our players. It’s like an Olympic plan. Take Katerina Johnson-Thompson, for instance. She competed at the London Olympics. But at Rio, four years on, she is expected to win Gold. Her whole plan is to beat Jessica Ennis-Hill and do that. Nothing else will do.

“And if you went through any young elite athlete, you’d say, ‘Well what is the plan for the next four years?’ If you come in the building at 16, by 20 Reece Oxford’s gold medal is being a regular in the Premier League. Now you sit down with Reece Oxford or any other young player – they’ve all got these from nine-years of age. It’s called an Individual Development Plan – an IDP. They’ll look at what is required.

“As part of that, they might go to a theatre to see an elite show. And he’ll go with his mentor, who will ask: ‘See how many mistakes he makes an hour and a half. He won’t trip over his feet, he won’t get his words wrong. Yet your concentration on the pitch is you make too many errors’. So, we open them up to all of that type of stuff.

“Reece’s four-year plan? Well, he’ll look at it and say, ‘No, no, no. It’s not four years for me, Terry’. He’s saying, ‘I’ve got to be in the team next year. I’ve got to be a regular’. And he’s constantly challenging himself and breaking boundaries. He always wants more.”
When Reece made his debut, he stood in the tunnel at Arsenal and looked around him. He knew this is where he should be
So, what is next for the prodigal 17-year-old defender?

“Well, we now need to look at whether for 15 games should we get Reece playing in the Championship? That’s a conversation I have had with Slaven and his staff.

“Or is Reece better off training every day with the first team and being around this environment? That is what we discuss as management on a weekly basis.”

Whatever happens, Westley insists West Ham will do everything in their power to hold onto the boy labelled the ‘new Rio’ for years to come.

Westley is adamant West Ham will keep the ‘predators’ away when it comes to protecting their hottest talent – especially Oxford, the club’s highest-ever paid teenager.

“As soon as top clubs spot a weakness, they try and come in and take them,” he says. “We’ve had that already with Reece. So we had to make a real statement to say, whatever you’re throwing at him, we need to keep him more.

“What’s the point in doing what we do if you let your very best ones disappear?”

After 18 months in the job, Westley believes things are coming together nicely.

Unbeaten in their last ten games, the Development Squad is littered with promising talent. Oxford is just the beginning.

“We’ve got some very good players. And we have to keep them together… Keeping the likes Oxford, Anthony Scully, Declan Rice and bringing in the likes of George Dobson and Martin Samuelsen. There is Vashon Neufville, Jamal Hector-Ingram, Lewis Page, Josh Cullen. The list goes on.

“Don’t forget Reece Burke either. We don’t talk about Burke yet he will have played first-team 50 games by the end of the season.

“Then there is Marcus Browne. The manager can’t believe what he has got in Marcus Browne. I’m not sure Marcus Browne quite believes it either yet what a talent he could be. Kyle Knoyle too.

“So the constant message here from when I arrived, is that we need to keep the predators away and show these boys that there is a pathway into the Olympic Stadium.”

Westley has a long way to go before he can emulate Tony Carr’s success. But he is well on the way.

The future for West Ham has never looked brighter.