England head coach Gareth Southgate is a firm believer in giving youth a chance. Should Augsburg defender Reece Oxford be expecting a phone call?
Oxford is no stranger to the England setup. Between the ages of 14 and 17, the Londoner won 35 caps at U16, 17, 18, 19 and 20 level, playing at a handful of youth FIFA World Cups and UEFA European championships.
It was during those formative years, early in 2015/16, Oxford made history as boyhood club West Ham United's youngest player, aged 16 years and 198 days. Arsenal's Mesut Özil was barely given an inch up against the 6'2" debutant, who later that season captained the U21s to English Premier League Cup gold.
Oxford appeared destined to make the permanent step up to the senior stage. He was even kitted out with a handsome pro contract at 18, but the harsh realities of trying to cut it in the English top tier forced a rethink.
"Sometimes you have to go back to go forward," he tweeted during a six-month loan spell in the English Championship with Reading made up of five appearances to go with the 17 he'd made for parent club West Ham.
Five-time Bundesliga winners Borussia Mönchengladbach offered Oxford a step in the right direction.
"He is considered one of England's brightest talents," commented Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl after tying the defensive specialist down to the first of two temporary stints at the Borussia-Park, in July 2017.
Oxford made eight appearances for the Foals, showcasing his versatility at right-back, centre-half and in defensive midfield, before finding his true calling at the heart of the defence with Augsburg. Since moving to the Bavarian outfit in January 2019, initially on loan, he has turned out 53 times in all competitions.
"If you're looking at game time and stats, it's been the best season in my career," Oxford told TalkSport of the 2020/21 campaign - his first full season with Augsburg. "I wouldn't say it's perfect, because I always want to aim higher, but it's better than the season before."
Oxford played 24 times in the Bundesliga last term as Augsburg finished 13th out of 18 teams, three points clear of the relegation play-off spot. Since returning from a knee injury that ruled him out of Die Fuggerstädter's first two competitive fixtures of 2021/22, the ex-Hammer has been involved in all seven league games from start to finish.
"I feel like moving to Germany, they focus on the little things and it’s just starting to straighten now," Oxford said of his standing as first-team regular at Augsburg. "I feel like I'm concentrating more and focusing more when I play."
It shows. Oxford is currently averaging 5.8 clearances, 1.8 aerial challenges won and 3.18 interceptions per 90 minutes. That latter nugget represents a league high, ahead of crafty veterans such as Mats Hummels (2.59, Borussia Dortmund) and John Brooks (2.46, Wolfsburg).
Oxford is optimistic an England call-up could be in the offing, if he can maintain his new-found level of consistency.
"I hope to get a look-in with the senior squad," he revealed last summer. "I played for the 20s and every age group below so hopefully, I can get some more games out here and hopefully, he [Gareth Southgate] gives me a chance. Hopefully, I can prove to him that I can play in the senior squad and that's the next step for me."
A maiden Bundesliga goal certainly won't have done his chances any harm. The 22-year-old powered in the opening goal in Augsburg's 1-1 draw with Arminia Bielefeld on Matchday 8 to become the 12th different English national to score in the Bundesliga.
Watch: Reece Oxford opened his account on his 58th Bundesliga appearance
Some of the more recent names on that list include Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham, two prime examples of English youngsters that have enjoyed career take-off in the Bundesliga and landed senior international recognition for their efforts.
Sancho transformed into a winger with world-class potential after leaving Manchester City's academy for Dortmund at 17, while BVB teenaged midfielder Bellingham is stockpiling performances worthy of the captain's armband for club and country. Part of Southgate's UEFA Euro 2020 squad, the duo have won 31 caps between them.
On current form, Oxford might be adding to the cap count sooner rather than later.