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'It's a conversation he needs to have with his coaches' - Ireland's Oko-Flex must carefully consider next move

The West Ham youngster earned a first U21 call-up for games against Italy and Sweden.

Armstrong Oko-Flex of Republic of Ireland (file pic).
Armstrong Oko-Flex of Republic of Ireland (file pic).
Image: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

Updated at 16.32

IRELAND U21 boss Jim Crawford says Armstrong Oko-Flex must carefully consider his next move.

The West Ham youngster earned a first U21 call-up for games against Italy and Sweden but failed to feature in the matchday squad for either encounter.

Oko-Flex made his first-team debut for Celtic last January partially due to many of the squad being forced into Covid isolation.

The 19-year-old, however, hasn’t fully kicked on since joining West Ham in the summer and the coach believes a loan move might be the best option to aid his development.

Asked whether the Dubliner’s recent omission was simply due to others being ahead of him in the Ireland U21 pecking order, Crawford replied: “At this stage, yeah. That’s why he wasn’t involved. I spoke to Armstrong about it and he’s fine with it. It’s his first camp with us. He’s been playing well with the [West Ham] U23s. It’s a conversation he needs to have with his coaches, key people around him: what’s his next step? Should he go on loan to a club that suits him?”

Choosing a team that suits Oko-Flex’s style of play, Crawford adds, is vital to his progress.

“Armstrong would be a player that needs the ball at his feet because he’s exciting in that way, getting at people and what have you. So it’s a conversation that needs to happen with the club, to go on loan, but to the right club too, whether that’s League One, League Two? I don’t know. Is that a little bit further afield? Belgium? Holland? It’s something we’ve had a conversation about. I’ve asked him to do it, have that conversation with those close to him.”

And does Crawford feel Oko-Flex in particular would be better suited to playing in a country such as Belgium or Holland rather than the lower tiers of English football?

“No, I’m not too sure. I just look at certain players with certain characteristics that suit that type of football i.e. Jack Byrne. Look, Jack is nothing like Armstrong in terms of playing characteristics but sometimes you need to go to a place that can help you and your super skills that are going to get you into West Ham’s first team as opposed to going on loan for the sake of going on loan to a League Two team that doesn’t play the type of football that suits you.

“That’s why I was saying it to him this morning to have a think about it, just don’t go jumping into a club to say ‘I’m playing first-team football now’ and it could hamper you. You go to a team, it doesn’t play the style that suits you, it affects your confidence and unfortunately when you go away on loan, your parent club are keeping an eye on you and, if you’re not playing, they’d be asking questions, saying ‘hold on, he’s gone to a League Two club and he’s not playing’. It could open up all sorts of issues for you as a player.”

And is the promising teen receptive to the idea of a move beyond the UK and Ireland?

“Yeah, Holland, Belgium, there are some good teams that play football in the lower leagues too. I told him just to be mindful of that, just don’t jump into something blind.”

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Paul Fennessy

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