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Transfer News What can Will Vaulks bring to Oxford? [SIGNED]

What can Will Vaulks bring to Oxford?

Oxford are allegedly set to sign former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Will Vaulks for free following the 30-year-old turning down an extension at Danny Rohl’s Championship side, but what can he bring to Des Buckingham’s Oxford United?


Standing at 5’11”, the right footed Welsh-capped midfielder would bring much needed experience to an Oxford side that is admittedly lacking it. Vaulks does not hide away from the ball, and is able to put in a crucial tackle or make a long ball pass forward to create attacking chances for his teammates.

Sheffield Wednesday’s captain at times this season, Vaulks impressed under Rohl towards the backend of the 23/24 season and earned himself an offer of a new contract, one which at this moment in time he seemingly has declined to move to pastures new. Capped twelve times by Wales, Wirral born Vaulks won Wednesday’s POTY in 23/24 and was integral to a side that battled relegation all the way.

This player looks such an incredible addition to our squad from the outside looking in, but let's get into more of the profile of someone who is top class on and off the pitch.

Strong points:

Vaulks is a player that likes to have plenty of long range shots, and does also often score an absolute screamer, as he did on many occasions at Sheffield Wednesday and also Cardiff City where he shared the field with current Oxford players Mark Harris, Josh Murphy, Ciaron Brown and Joe Bennett. He is excellent at dropping deeper to provide defenders with the chance to move the ball forward with his fantastic scanning ability to help drag opposition players away from his teammates.

He is able to comfortably rotate into the back line to cover for defensive players, as he did at times for Wednesday in 23/24. His off the ball ability to pick up space in the midfield between triangles and between opposing attackers is fantastic, and it provides the chance for quicker build up as well as build up that can bring more and more players into it as well.


In this photo (beautifully drawn), Vaulks drops back further after the Wednesday defender goes to run forward with the ball, this causes Bellingham and Aouchiche to close around him forming space for Bannan to drop off and receive the ball from a pass, creating an opportunity that ended in a goal for Wednesday. Vaulks’ ability to drop back into a sweeper/cover role for the defence can be so vital to shape and ability in transition, and it potentially opens up more of a chance for an Oxford player to get further forward. An example of this could be giving Fin Stevens more of a licence to get forward and to become a second winger of sorts, adding more attacking threat and providing increased counter opportunities.

He is calm and collected on the ball and this allows him to play cool passes to teammates in more dangerous areas, playing out of danger and forging attacking opportunities. His positioning on and off of the ball to affect play is excellent, scanning play around him as well as moving into positions that allow others to progress and transition further afield. His set-piece taking is also decent, with two of his three assists coming in a 2-2 draw against Norwich in which he assisted both Michael Ihiekwe and Michael Smith from corners aimed towards the far post.

He spends a fair amount of time in the middle third of the pitch, getting on the ball often and playing passes wherever is best at the time. He is good at tackling the ball, though does foul occasionally, picking up 10 yellow cards in 35 overall appearances in the 23/24 season. Experienced, confident and clever, Vaulks would be a huge asset to this Oxford side.


Potential areas of weakness:

There are a few different issues when it comes to Vaulks’ game, with one of the main ones being his fouling and booking record. This seems to be something that happens fairly often, potentially due to him not being as quick as he used to be. It is not something serious though, as he absolutely makes up for it in many other ways. You could also argue that his age is a potential problem, but I think that a two-year deal for a 30-year-old extremely experienced player in the Championship would be an excellent move.

Looking at his age, you could call this a weakness or not but there is less of a chance for him to change his ways in specific areas of his game. For example, it may be tricker to develop his progressive passing which is currently more of a problem, or his speed. As he is now 30, you would not see the same changes you would see from a player that is 25. In no way does this change what I feel about Vaulks but it does highlight the importance of signing for a system, in which I believe he fits in with it all perfectly.

He does like to go into duels and battles in defence, and wins a fair amount of his aerial duels and loose balls, often getting onto second balls or using his positioning and playmaking to get to balls quicker than the opposition. Unfortunately, he does lack a little bit in these defensive duels won specifically, falling below the average percentile ranks.

Moving onto more of his weaker areas further up the pitch, he does like to hit long-balls that don’t always reach the intended target, leading to possession being lost and a turnover of the ball. In the Championship this could be more of a problem due to the quicker build-up of sides for attacks as well as the large amounts of pace that clubs possess. Vaulks is not necessarily a player to run with the ball, supported by his stats on it, and this means he is much more likely to get the ball deep and play it out wide to full-backs or centre-backs who have stepped up.

On the topic of progressive and forward passing, Vaulks often looks more lateral with his passes, playing about 50% of his passes laterally rather than forward at 30%, or backwards at 20%. This means he really needs to up his play forwards if he wants to suit more of what I believe we are going to do, which is take advantage on the counter and turnover due to what I think our average possession will be. If he also cuts down on his longer shots and potentially moves more towards assists or shots from in the box, then he could improve on his amount of goals per 90 across the season, which last season was at zero in the Championship.

Where does he fit into our current XI?:

Vaulks could potentially hint at a system change, either to a more defensive midfielder, or to a system where he sits with Brannagan supporting an attacking midfielder. Him potentially sitting with Brannagan or behind advanced eights could mean that Des would be giving more of an allowance to our full backs, giving them more freedom and also providing the potential for centre-backs to step up further, becoming wide centre-backs.

With his experience and ability on and off the ball, Vaulks would likely be the one to link more of the play with players all over the pitch, whilst players like Brannagan are given (and rightly so) more attacking ability and opportunities. He will be crucial in spreading and dictating the play out from the back to forge counter opportunities and to offer the wider players more chances for overloading situations. We will likely see passes played to the full-backs and centre-backs more often, as well as him dropping much deeper to allow those players the chance to move and become more fluid.

I can see him in either a double pivot with Brannagan or in a single deeper six position to dictate the play as I said, as well as provide more definitive defensive cover than we have had since the move to a more attacking and overload based 4-1-4-1. In possession I could see a system more like a 2-3-4-1, with Vaulks being in line with our full-backs before giving either a run forward and covering them, whilst out of possession it would be more of a 4-3-3. The ability for him to sit deeper in attacks and to get on the ball more often in the middle third could be the key to us having more chances in the final third, with play spread evenly around our forwards, as well as having sufficient cover in defence should there be a turnover at any stage. Problems did occur in our 4-1-4-1 with midfield overload, and those players getting dragged out wide too often, but having Vaulks (and Brannagan) leading the sweeping and playmaking could be very promising.


When it comes to a flat system change, we could see a 4-3-3 with Vaulks sitting deeper behind two more-advanced eights, or a 4-2-3-1 with him and Brannagan behind an attacking midfielder. Further to this, Brannagan may be afforded a position that has recently been held by Rodrigues and Goodrham, to provide more of a balance both backwards and forwards.


One of the biggest things that was talked about whilst Liam Manning was at Oxford was ‘behaviours’ and characters of players, and this is no change for both Des and Ed in their recruitment of players. In any situation and for any manager, the personality of a player will become more obvious than their skill and ability based on their outgoing actions on and off the field. Vaulks is potentially one of the best examples of a model professional, winning the Championship Community Player of the Year in 23/24. This shows that not only are we bringing in an experienced and quality player, but also a quality person. With the club becoming more community based and reliant again, Vaulks’ professionalism and personality could be further integral to what we want to do off the pitch, like recent signing Owen Dale has with his connection to the fans since his arrival in January.


Overall, Will Vaulks will, at least in my opinion, be a huge part and asset of Oxford in our first Championship season for 25 years. After not really having a proper ‘six’ since Gorrin originally got injured, we finally have (at least I hope) a player who can provide the defensive coverage needed to give other players more of a licence to perform and play how Des want to.
He has so many abilities and aspects about him that make him immediately likeable and this gives me so much excitement for his signing, as well as potential further additions this summer.

Delighted with this potential addition to the squad, excited to see what he brings, as well as whether he could be one of the vital pieces of quality and experience needed to keep us in the Championship.

Thanks for reading, let me know your thoughts on the transfer and this article, I’d love to hear any feedback.

In the meantime Come on you Yellows!​
Summer signings made after promotion to the Championship:

2024 - Will Vaulks

1996 - Nigel Jemson and Darren Purse.

1984 - David Langan , Billy Hamilton and John Trewick (loan made permanent).

1968 - Robin Gladwin and Les Crook.
Summer signings made after promotion to the Championship:

2024 - Will Vaulks

1996 - Nigel Jemson and Darren Purse.

1984 - David Langan , Billy Hamilton and John Trewick (loan made permanent).

1968 - Robin Gladwin and Les Crook.

The largest number of summer intakes was three! How times have changed.
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