West Ham United Academy Director and Development Squad manager Terry Westley had made an exciting admission about the current crop of young players in the youth system and Academy of the club.
No fewer than five homegrown stars were included in David Moyes’ first-team squad for the vital 1-1 Premier League draw away at Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon.
Three of them, skipper Mark Noble and starlets ever-present in the first-team Declan Rice and Josh Cullen, featured, while Under-23 youngsters defender Josh Pask and attacker Grady Diangana were unused substitutes.
Westley, whose U23s are fresh from impressive away victories over Manchester City and Everton in the Premier League 2 Division 1, was delighted with the involvement of the Academy products in the London derby.
“I think it’s a proud moment for everybody at the Club,” the former Luton Town boss proclaimed. “One of the reasons I came here initially was because West Ham United is known for its home-grown players and since Mark Noble, Jack Collison and James Tomkins, there has been a gap.
“Before that, the work being done was outstanding and to get that amount of players through the system was fantastic, but that was a different era and it’s very challenging now with other clubs wanting to take your players and the sums of money we’re now talking about.
“So, to actually have a game where you have three Academy products on the pitch at the end in a Premier League game and the manager trusting them is massive. We have the captain, who has obviously been here a long time and also helps looks after the young ones and is an ambassador, and Declan Rice, who is not yet established in the team but the manager trusts that he can do a job and he put him into high-profile, tense situations against Southampton and Chelsea.
“Then, with ten minutes to go, to say to Josh Cullen ‘Go on, tidy things up in the middle of the pitch and help us wrap things up’ is a great endorsement of everybody here at the Academy.”
However, despite Westley’s delight, those five aren’t the only youngsters to have played at senior level this season, with names such as Moses Makasi, Nathan Holland, Sead Haksabanovic, Reece Oxford, Reece Burke, Domingos Quina and Antonio Martinez among others getting chances throughout the season, many of whom are now out on loan.
The figures, much like the young players, are promising for the East London team’s famous reputation of producing some of the finest footballing talent in the country, earning it the nickname, “The Academy of Football.”
The phrase was first coined in the 1950s and 1960s with names such as FIFA World Cup winners with England, Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst coming through the ranks, to name but a few.
Around 40 years later, great players such as Billy Bonds and Sir Trevor Brooking being produced along the way, a second Influx of famous players came out of the club, under the guidance of long-serving Academy Director Tony Carr.
Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole, to name but a few, were notables to make the first-team and then progress on to bigger and better things, many going on to lift trophies of the like of the Premier League and UEFA Champions League.
The aforementioned current talents, the list somewhat endless, certainly have the potential to recreate an “Academy of Football”-esque generation in Claret & Blue and it has certainly got the man in charge dreaming.
“Maybe it’s coming back? That’s what is leaving a smile on my face. Maybe we’re getting back to something that this Club ought to be and underneath that, to be able to get the type of results we’ve got in the last two games at Under-23 level against Manchester City and Everton was fantastic.
“We shouldn’t be able to compete with Manchester City at youth level, because of the vast sums they’ve got, and we had three Under-18s on the pitch that night. Then, to go to Everton and win 4-0, again with three different Under-18s on the pitch, really gives me some hope for next season and the years to follow.”
His U23s are currently chasing the top four in their first-ever season in Division 1 of the PL2, occupying fifth place and just three points behind Swansea City in fourth, a mere five points behind leaders Leicester City ahead of the final two matches of the season.
The Young Hammers face Derby County away from home before welcoming Arsenal to the London Stadium a week on Friday, and off the back of three away triumphs on the spin, who would back against them finding in style?
Another youngster, Marcus Browne, scored all four goals in the Toffees thrashing at Southport FC and the only goal of the City victory, and is another to have been in and around the senior set-up recently.
While many Under-18s are impressing for the age group above them, that team is still following in the footsteps of the U23s’ excellent form, winning four of their last five games and now looking set to avoid the drop from the U18 Premier League.
Many of the Top-Flight team’s Academy products will now be eager to help Moyes’ senior side to steer clear relegation to the Sky Bet Championship over the final six matches of the Premier League season.
Injuries to Moyes’ squad will mean opportunity could knock like it has for the likes of Rice, for the Browne’s and the Holland’s, furthering the excitement about the future of West Ham’s world-renowned Academy system after several years of uncertainty.