Composure, awareness, having a cool nickname that automatically heightens expectations – there are several reasons people might identify when discussing why Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has never fulfilled his potential. The most important of all, however, could be something far more innate.
The 23-year-old’s nationality is a factor that has, perhaps a little paradoxically, closed doors for him along the path towards what increasingly looks like mediocrity.
Being English is a weight almost all young footballers find hard to carry, even if their nickname is The Ox. Just ask record-breaking Jack Rodwell, the former great hope of a nation who recently surpassed a milestone achieved by Premier League greats Kenny Miller, Alan Hutton and Darren Moore when he went 39 matches without a win as part of his toil at Sunderland. Icarus must have been shaking his head when that City move went through.
Jack Rodwell has finally ended his run of no Premier League wins in a game he's started.. his first win since May 2013! 🙌 pic.twitter.com/AsHAqZy4Jq
— AccaTracker App (@AccaTrackerTM) February 4, 2017
Even closer to home for Oxlade-Chamberlain is Theo Walcott, the forward who has felt the burden of British expectation ever since 2006, when Sven-Goran Eriksson decided to select a speedy child he knew he would never utilise for the World Cup. Walcott is now just another couple of poor seasons away from being asked for a selfie while out walking his dog only to see Lewis Hamilton tagged in it on Instagram later that day.
In truth, Oxlade-Chamberlain has underwhelmed for some time now. His lack of creativity and inconsistent final ball has had fans despairing for quite some time, the excuse of youth becoming less and less valid. That hasn’t diminished the pressure of expectant eyes even slightly, though.
An example of the disparity between the forward’s current abilities and the delusions of some fans came as I sat watching Wenger’s men recently in a local bar. One, presumably very plastic or poor-sighted fan, sat alone at the bar screaming: “Come on The Ox!” every time Arsenal broke forward. His belief in the young hero did not diminish due to a lack of influence on the game; I don’t even think he realised at any point that The Ox wasn’t actually on the field.
It isn’t just the Arsenal fans that keep the faith in Oxlade-Chamberlain and his compatriots, undoubtedly influenced by the country in which they were born. Arsene Wenger – perhaps justifiably given that each Premier League club must contain at least eight homegrown players in their squad of 25 – constantly gives his English contingent chance after undeserved chance.
One player who is an exception to this is Jack Wilshere. Wenger seemingly lost patience with Jack the Lad and his injuries this season and, encouraged by a big money move for Granit Xhaka, loaned the 25-year-old out to Bournemouth. Since then, Wilshere has played regular football and experienced a renaissance that reportedly has Manchester City looking at him. Surely Oxlade-Chamberlain could also benefit from the chance to play in a more organic, relaxed setting where he would be selected due to actually being good enough for the team?
We have seen what can happen when foreign talents are deemed not quite good enough by Premier League managers. It’s hard to imagine that Paul Pogba and Kevin De Bruyne lament their foreignness and the part it played in them being dismissed by English sides, it’s just a shame that Oxlade-Chamberlain wasn’t blessed with the same rejection.
We doubt the Ox makes it into Sanchez’s all-time XI…