At just 16 years and 236 days old, West Ham’s Reece Oxford became the seventh youngest debutant in Premier League history on Sunday afternoon.
Despite lining up opposite to the World Cup winning Mesut Ozil, Oxford held his own superlatively and helped his side, West Ham United, to secure a surprise 2-0 victory at the Emirates.
Oxford joins a long list of talented youngsters who, despite their tender ages, have graced the Premier League since its inception in the early nineties.
We at Shoot thought it might be a good idea to take a look back at some of these players and ask, where are they now?
Name: Mark Platts
Age: 16 years, 264 days
Team: Sheffield Wednesday
Then: Talented England schoolboy Mark Platts made his debut for Sheffield Wednesday on February 10, 1996. With his side winning 2-1 against Wimbledon and the game approaching its conclusion, Platts made history as he replaced the experienced Chris Waddle on the Sheffield Wednesday wing. Platts had been hyped for some time and was a similar player to the man he replaced on the left-hand side. Just two weeks later, Platts appeared for Wednesday once more as a substitute and looked set to take the Premier League by storm. By the summer of 1996, Platts had signed a professional contract and was attracting interest from some of the game’s giants.
Now: Despite his early impact, Platts never managed to break into the Sheffield Wednesday side and was eventually released to Torquey United in 1999. He played for Torquey for just over a year but struggled with homesickness and soon dropped out of the Football League altogether. According to a recent investigation by the Guardian, Platts now works in the Steel Construction Industry back in his hometown, Sheffield.
Name: Jack Wilshere
Age: 16 years, 255 days
Then: Arsene Wenger has a habit of bringing through talented youngsters; none more so than Jack Wilshere, who, in the summer of 2008, made waves during Arsenal’s pre-season campaign. The talented right-winger had a touch of the Paul Gascoigne about his game and appeared to be fearless in the tackle. In September 2008, Wilshere was given his debut during the second half of a Premier League match against Blackburn Rovers. Just over a week later, Wilshere starred and scored as Arsenal ran out 6-0 winners against Sheffield United in the League Cup. His talent was as such that many declared him as the future of English football.
Now: Despite possessing immense natural ability, Wilshere has never managed to fulfil his potential on the grand stage. After performing admirably on the right wing for much of his early career, Wilshere was moved back to a holding midfield position by his manager, Arsene Wenger. However, for many in the media, this restricted Wilshere’s prominently attacking game. Injuries further disrupted Wilshere’s development and, by the 2010-2011 season, he was regarded as an ‘injury-prone’ professional. In the past few months or so, Wilshere has started to demonstrate his potential on a regular basis. Coming into the 2015-2016 season, Wilshere was expected to take the Premier League by storm. Yet, the injury curse refuses to budge! He is expected to be out for around a month with another ankle problem.
Name: Jack Robinson
Age: 16 years, 250 days
Then: Rafa Benitez’s era at Liverpool was almost over; just a game against Premier League strugglers Hull to contend with. On May 9, 2010, Benitez decided to hand Liverpool’s future generation a chance at the big time. As the game approached its finale, Benitez brought on talented full-back Jack Robinson – making him the youngest player to ever feature for the Liverpool first team. The young left-back shared a lot of similarities with first choice Brazilian Fabio Aurelio; namely, his wand of a left foot. Moreover, he seemed incredibly assured of his own ability despite possessing a slender frame. A lot was expected of the player and the club’s history of bringing homegrown players through suggested he would have a fruitful career ahead.
Now: Robinson never quite managed to establish himself at his boyhood side and now plays for Queens Park Rangers in the English Championship. In total, he only appeared for Liverpool on six separate occasions and found his path blocked by the impressive form of first, Jose Enrique, and second, Jon Flanagan. After making several loan moves, Robinson was eventually released from Liverpool in the summer of 2014. Last season, Robinson had a relatively successful period at English Championship level, with Huddersfield Town. However, in March 2015, he suffered a knee injury, ruling him out of action for 9-12 months. He remains on the sidelines but, still only 21, has time on his side.
Name: Gary McSheffrey
Age: 16 years, 198 days
Team: Coventry City
Then: Youth team graduate Gary McSheffrey became Coventry’s – and the Premier League’s – youngest ever player when he made his debut during a 4-1 romp against Aston Villa in 1999. Described as a ‘fleet-footed’ and ‘explosive’ left winger, McSheffrey had featured for England at several school boy levels and was expected to gradually make his way into the first team picture. By 2001, McSheffrey was indeed a first team regular with Coventry – who were now relegated into Division One – and was attracting interest from some of the Premier League big boys.
Now: 32-year-old McSheffrey is currently playing for Scunthorpe United in the English League One division. While he is regarded as a fans’ favourite at his former club Coventry, McSheffrey will probably look upon his career with some regret. After scoring 44 goals in just over 140 games for Coventry, McSheffrey made a £4m move to Premier League regulars Birmingham City. Despite a promising start – scoring 16 goals in his first season – McSheffrey eventually lost his regular first team place and, after four years with the club, moved back to Coventry.
Name: Jose Baxter
Age: 16 years, 191 days
Then: After the emergence of Wayne Rooney in 2002, Everton’s youth academy was suddenly thrusted into the limelight. From the moment of Rooney’s big money move to Manchester United in 2004, the media and fans alike were desperately searching for the next academy gem. One player who appeared to answer their prayers was a young local forward called Jose Baxter. In both real and virtual terms, Baxter was compared to his predecessor and, in 2008, was handed his first team debut with Everton. Despite possessing a minuscule frame, Baxter had wonderful technical ability and seemed undeterred by the step up to the professional scene. In his opening months with the first team, Baxter featured three times.
Now: Baxter, now 23, currently plays for Sheffield United in the English League One division. In July 2015, he was given a five-month ban after failing a drug test in the previous season. He has insisted that he would never knowingly take prohibited drugs and has suggested that his drink was spiked. In terms of his Everton career, Baxter never quite managed to maintain his place in the first team picture. He decided that the best option was to drop down the divisions and gain some valuable experience. Since joining United in 2013, Baxter has established himself as one of the finest players in the division. Whether or not he will be able to make it back to the Premier League remains to be seen. At just 23, he has time on his hand.
Name: Rushian Hepburn-Murphy
Age: 16 years, 176 days
Team: Aston Villa
Then: Tim Sherwood has a reputation for bringing through young-guns from the academy – ask Harry Kane, Nabil Bentelab and Ryan Mason. After becoming Aston Villa manager in early 2015, Sherwood quickly announced his intentions by placing 16-year-old Russian Hepburn-Murphy on the bench for a Premier League tie against Sunderland. With the club coasting at 4-0, Sherwood unleashed his youngster, making him the youngest Aston Villa player in the Premier League era. Hepburn-Murphy had built himself abit of a reputation within the Villa circles. In just 21 youth-team games in the 2014-2015 season, he had an impressive return of 18 goals. Sherwood joked after the game that it would be “expensive now if anyone wants to try and take him off us!”
Now: Due to the fact that he only made his debut in the past couple of months, there’s not much more to say about the Aston Villa youngster. He started the 2015-2016 in the under-18 set up and helped his side to an opening day 2-1 victory. He will be hoping that, by continuing to impress in the youth side, another call up to the first team may be on the horizon.
Name: Aaron Lennon
Age: 16 years, 128 days
Team: Leeds United
Then: In the 2003-2004 season, Leeds were suffering perhaps one of biggest falls from grace in the history of the Premier League. After overspending in previous seasons, the club were in financial meltdown and looked set to be relegated from the top division. Not even the debut of talented winger, Aaron Lennon, could spare the club’s blushes. His introduction during a 2-1 defeat against Tottenham Hotspur showed how stretched the club were in terms of both finance and personnel. Despite this, Lennon was a real talent and possessed incredible acceleration off the mark. After spending a season in the Championship refining his game, Lennon was snapped up by Tottenham Hotspur for £1m. Just a year later, he was named in the England Squad for the 2006 World Cup.
Now: Aaron Lennon is still at Tottenham Hotspur but finds himself without a squad number for the coming season. His time at the club has been a mixed one. During his early years, Lennon was lauded as the future of the England right-hand side. His explosive pace and dribbling ability meant that, at times, he was unplayable. However, as time went on, some in the media started criticising Lennon for his tentative nature in front of goal. In the 2014-2015 season, Lennon was loaned out to fellow Premier League side, Everton. Despite impressing, Lennon returned to Tottenham without a hope of breaking back into the first team picture. He has been linked with the likes of West Ham, Aston Villa and Southampton.
Name: Isaiah Brown
Age: 16 years, 117 days
Team: West Brom
Then: With little left to play for and with the 2012-2013 approaching its climax, West Brom decided to blood a few of their young guns. One such player to make the bench was 16-year-old Englishman Izzy Brown. The forward-come-winger was thought to be a pacy individual with an eye for a goal. In the final minutes of a game against Wigan Athletic, Brown came off the bench and made history as the third youngest player to ever feature in the Premier League. Just weeks later, Brown was back in the news after Chelsea attempted to take him from under West Brom’s noses before he signed a professional contract. After an intense period of negotiation, Brown made his move to the capital and West Brom were forced to accept a tribunal fee.
Now: Brown is currently on loan at Chelsea’s feeder club, Vitesse, in the Dutch top division. He is regarded as one of the most talented players in the Chelsea youth-set up and is expected to break into the first-team picture in the coming seasons. Mourinho himself has talked up Brown; stating that he would be to blame if the player doesn’t become an England regular in the not too distant future. Mourinho’s faith was demonstrated as he handed Brown his Premier League debut in the final game of the 2014-2015 season.
Name: Matthew Briggs
Age: 16 years, 68 days
Then: After starring in Fulham’s youth setup for a number of years, 16-year-old Matthew Briggs made history as he was selected for an end of season Premier League clash against Middlesbrough. The athletic and physically dominating figure was unusually developed for his age and, on his debut in 2007, didn’t look out of place in the Fulham line-up. However, as Fulham’s regular stars started to regain their fitness, Briggs increasingly found himself out of the first team picture. Three years later, Briggs was sent out on loan to League One side Leyton Orient in order to get some first team experience.
Now: Speaking to the Guardian in late 2014, Briggs lamented the high expectations that came with becoming the Premier League’s youngest ever player. Now 24-years-old and with Colchester United in League One, Briggs is attempting to rebuild a career ruined by expectation and injury trouble. After making his debut in 2007, Briggs attracted attention from some of the biggest names in football. However, after a chastening experience in a game against Arsenal in 2010 – where he was replaced after 28 minutes – Brigg’s stock fell significantly and he was quickly sent out on loan. Seven unsuccessful moves followed for the once highly rated fullback. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. In March 2015, Briggs was approached by Guyana – whom he qualifies for by virtue of his parents heritage – to play for their national side. He made his international debut just weeks later.