Ireland under-21 boss Jim Crawford has advised Armstrong Oko-Flex to choose carefully as he lines up his first loan move from West Ham United.
The former Tolka Rovers and St Kevin’s Boys schoolboy has been scoring regularly for West Ham’s Premier League 2 side but is now ready to step up his development.
The teenager joined up with the 21s for the first time for the double-header with Italy and Sweden this week but didn’t make either matchday squad.
Dubliner Oko-Flex watched from the stands at Tallaght Stadium as one of his competitors for an attacking berth, Ollie O’Neill, stole the headlines with a late winner over group leaders Sweden.
Crawford views him as a wideman in the front three, a position he’s well-stocked in with Tyreik Wright, Will Smallbone, Liam Kerrigan and Will Ferry all in situ.
With all four getting regular senior football, either with their parent clubs or on loan, Crawford confirmed the lack of experience in the men’s game has counted against him.
He said: “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.
“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?”
Crawford feels that Oko-Flex’s particular gifts with the ball at his feet mean the choice of where he continues his development is key, and a move to Belgium or the Netherlands may suit him perfectly.
A move to a lower league club in England may be tempting but the physical nature of some of the teams may not suit the Dubliner.
Oko-Flex has been burned before when he left Arsenal for Celtic in 2018 after the Dubliner was tempted north of the border by the prospect of working with Brendan Rodgers.
Rodgers left for Leicester City within months and Oko-Flex made just one substitute appearance, during a Covid outbreak, before returning to London in the summer.
“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.”
He made a comparison with one Irish player who benefitted massively from a season spent on loan in the Eredivisie in the Netherlands.
Jack Byrne spent a productive 2015/16 season in Leeuwarden, on loan from Manchester City to the then-top flight side SC Cambuur.
Crawford continued: “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. 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 that doesn’t play the style that suits you, it affects your confidence
“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.
“[They’d be] 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.
“[Whether it’s] Holland, Belgium [or] there are some good teams that play football in the lower leagues too. I told him to be mindful of that, just don’t jump into something blind.”