‘Potential’: a word that has followed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain around since we bought him from Southampton in 2011.
The Ox has always been one of those intensely likable characters who gelled instantly with the squad and quickly became a part of the furniture.
In his first season, the 17-year-old showed huge promise and as a youngster, everyone was excited, despite the £15m price tag. He made 28 appearances, scored four times and assisted three. Although the stats didn’t appear to be much to write home about, the ‘potential’ was always there and his ability to run at defences was something we didn’t really have at the club. Not to mention injury had already began to hamper the youngster’s career.
Alex’s next season with us was almost the same. Although this time he appeared 34 times, only scored twice and assisted five. Although he had the odd injury, the now 18-year-old spent a lot of time on the bench, mainly appearing as a substitute. His two goals were against Newcastle in the Premier League and Coventry in the league cup so not exactly huge opposition but again, he had ‘potential’ and was still young.
The 2013/14 season saw the Ox seriously injure his knee, which saw him sidelined for months. He only got the opportunity to make 21 appearances, in which he scored three times and assisted six.
The following year was more of the same. Long periods out through injury, this time his hamstring and groin, 37 appearances, three goals, five assists.
This season it was supposed to be different. After the 22-year-old’s bright pre-season, which included a goal in the Community Shield against Chelsea, we felt sure that this would be his season. This was where all this potential would come to fruition. This was where he’d prove why we bought him at the age of 17 for £15m and why we kept him at the club, despite his play not really developing.
However, it soon became clear that we were stuck on Groundhog Day. The Ox, when fit, continued to run at defences with no real end product, just had he had done for four years. His crossing continued to be hit or miss and then he got injured. Again.
Now he’s back from injury. Again. And got a rare start against Newcastle at home in the Premier League ahead of Joel Campbell, who has been superb since stepping in. Alex proceeded to have a pretty terrible game. He repeatedly got dispossessed and even after switching wings with Theo, all he appeared to be able to do was run at the defence and give the ball away.
It soon dawned on me that perhaps the Ox is never going to improve. Perhaps he’ll be stuck in this strange limbo of not really going anywhere but being okay enough to use as a substitute and forward in league cup matches.
This may sound harsh, and as a person, I really do like Alex. But football isn’t about how much people like you, it’s about how you perform on the pitch or at least how quickly you show signs of improvement. At the moment, Alex isn’t doing either.
Of course, he can produce the odd amazing performance and temporarily, our faith is restored, but if you look back at his progress since he joined us, it doesn’t look good.
He tries so hard and obviously wants to prove himself so badly, but often this leads to him lunging in, making mistakes and appearing naive.
Is it time for the Ox to leave? Would a loan deal be beneficial?
Possibly. Although one thing is for certain, he’s not reached the potential we thought he had.