With the sale of James Tomkins to Crystal Palace for £10 million, West Ham have very much nailed their expectations to the mast named "Reece".
Reece Burke and Reece Oxford are the latest hopefuls to emerge from the Hammers' youth academy and both have already had significant first-team experience. Although nothing can ever be certain in professional sport, the term "hopeful" is already expected to be a complete misnomer for this pair. Not since Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole emerged from Tony Carr's academy in the late-'90s has there been a higher expectation on youth products.
Nineteen-year-old Burke has already tasted the highs and lows of the professional game. Making his debut in the third round of the FA Cup against Nottingham Forest in 2014, Sam Allardyce's experimental and weakened side were thrashed 5-0; an exercise that underlined many fans' antipathy toward their then manager. Burke fortunately recovered from this setback and played in the League Cup against Sheffield United -- another unfortunate reversal as the Hammers lost in a penalty shootout -- before making his league debut in April 2015 in a 0-0 draw with Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road. It was a game in which Burke's maturity shone through.
Last season, Slaven Bilic sent the youngster out on loan to Bradford City to give him some more game time and further experience. The manager was already said to rate Burke, but even Bilic must have been surprised at the loan outcome. The defender finished the season with seven awards at Bradford's end-of-season ceremony, including the coveted Player of the Season crown. With many clubs looking enviously at Burke's promise, Bilic had to act.
Meanwhile, the other Reece, 17-year-old Oxford, has had a different journey. Considered one of the best youth prospects in the country since the age of 11, Oxford has been nurtured since signing for West Ham's under-13s.
Making his full debut for the first team in July 2015, aged just 16, the defender astonishingly featured in midfield against FC Lustitanos in a Europa League qualifier. The Hammers won 3-1 and Oxford performed so well, Bilic had no hesitation in keeping the youngster in the side for the remaining qualifiers. Although a weakened side eventually went out of the competition before the group stage, Bilic kept faith in Oxford and the youngster starred in a 2-0 win over Arsenal at the Emirates on the opening day of the season. Oxford looked totally at home in the Premier league and, playing in a defensive midfield position, the youngster shone in a superb 3-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield.
Inevitably, the early-season exertions caught up with Oxford and, after losing his place after seven games, the player only figured on the bench, coming on several times to help gain vital points against Aston Villa, Tottenham and Everton. Captaining the U21 squad to the Premier League Cup Trophy, Oxford's maturity continued to grow but, outside of the first team, some big names began sniffing around.
With rumours that Manchester United and Man City were prepared to spend in excess of £10m for his services, West Ham seem to be struggling to agree terms with their protege. However, aware that his immediate future would be better served with regular football in the Hammers' new home in Stratford, it appears that Bilic may have offered the player an incentive.
A local and popular player with fans, Tomkins' sale has been received poorly by some sections of the support. Although he struggled to break the centre-back pairing of Winston Reid and Angelo Ogbonna last season -- Welshman James Collins deputising in front of him for long periods -- Tomkins did play well at right-back and there were many who believed he could further his career there.
In any case, the player who represented Great Britain at the last Olympics was expected to grow under the tutelage of the former Croatian defender Bilic. However, with pressure mounting to keep the two Reeces, the manager decided to cash in on the 27-year-old.
There seems little doubt that Tomkins would have loved to play for his boyhood club in the new stadium, but Crystal Place are growing steadily under Alan Pardew and, with an FA Cup final appearance last season and the signing of Andros Townsend from Newcastle to bolster their attack, the South London side are steadily building an impressive squad. Tomkins will obviously start for Palace and, though some may be upset, this might be a good business for all concerned.
Nevertheless, this is a vital statement from the Hammers. Allowing Tomkins to leave will only work if the club move forward with their two young players. Bilic has made a bold declaration to his academy players and it is now time for the two Reeces to respond.