During one of the middle seasons of NBC’s acclaimed The West Wing, Martin Sheen’s Jed Bartlett contests re-election with a southern Republican. The decisive moment in the race occurs when, during a televised debate, Bartlett urges his opponent to expand on a stock response he has given to a question on economic policy.
“What are the next ten words of that answer?”
It changes the election; it’s the point at which the opponent is exposed for being skin-deep and for being reliant on pre-prepared answers which mean little away from the television cameras.
Tenuous as it sounds, this has me thinking about Reece Oxford, West Ham’s sixteen year-old midfielder who has been thrust into the national consciousness after his performance against Arsenal on Sunday afternoon.
And, in the aftermath, the word with which he has been branded is maturity: Staggering, startling, remarkable maturity.
Without question, Oxford did play very well at The Emirates and he was an important part of his side’s stubborn, disciplined effort without the ball. His distribution was neat and economic and, as and when necessary, he did drop deeper to provide defensive reinforcement.
So, with more than a hint of inevitability, there has been a rush to elevate him to bright young thing status. He is no longer just Reece Oxford, he is Reece Oxford the starlet, Reece Oxford the wonderkid - the sixteen year-old boy who is so impressively mature.
And there’s that word again.
Taking issue with the hastiness with which young English players are celebrated is a fair, but unoriginal grievance. It goes without saying that Oxford should now be left alone and would almost certainly benefit from being allowed to grow and learn in relative anonymity but, alas, past experience tells us that that is unlikely to happen.
Instead then, maybe it’s more novel to focus our grievance on the terms being used in Oxford’s promotion.
“Maturity” is a valuable footballing commodity, for sure, but in this instance it seems to be being used as a blanket term; a generalised adjective deployed to mask just how little attention was paid to Oxford’s on-pitch performance. There are exceptions and there are those within the media who quite obviously did keep a keen eye on his personal contribution, but there are many, many others who seem to have noted the player’s age, factored in West Ham’s mighty impressive win and concluded that, without really knowing why, Oxford is now an exceptional talent.
“He really did show great maturity…”
Yes, he did - but quantify that. How did that maturity manifest itself and what did it allow him to do? Had I not watched the game myself on Sunday, I would know nothing about Reece Oxford other than that his emotional development is beyond that of the average sixteen year-old.
There has been very little in the way of description or proper assessment.
If you’re going to put that kind of external pressure on a young player, you owe it to him to pay a certain level of attention. He has earned the right to have his individual attributes properly recognised and for them not to be precis’d into bandwagon language.
Maybe this is still a grievance with over-promotion? But, if we can’t control the speed at which these young players are shoved onto centre-stage, we can at least question why they’re being pushed through the curtain.
What, other than his age, makes him special? That isn’t an attempt to question his talent or dispute his place in the West Ham first-team, it’s just a plea for people to stop and think before rushing to board the bandwagon.
“Yes, you’ve told me he’s mature - but what are the next ten words?”
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