Following the departure of Cheikhou Kouyaté to Crystal Palace, Manuel Pellegrini’s senior central midfield options are not an overwhelmingly exciting selection.
Summer free transfer Jack Wilshere is an excellent coup, but Pellegrini’s options to partner him are ageing skipper Mark Noble, Pedro Obiang – who was in talks over a move to Sampdoria before Pellegrini reportedly did an about turn – and 22-year-olds Edmilson Fernandes and Josh Cullen.
It is Swiss midfielder Fernandes who has had the greater first-team opportunities – which is arguably a symptom of the preference for foreign talent over domestic players in the Premier League – while Cullen has been sent out on various loans.
Those spells at Bradford City and Bolton Wanderers have no doubt toughened up the midfielder and, although David Moyes said he would have no hesitation fielding Cullen as the injuries mounted last season, he only made two league appearances.
There is a sense that the Hammers lost a large part of their identity when leaving Upton Park and the mistrust of academy players threatens to erode another proud tradition.
Of course a big-money, powerful central midfielder to replace Kouyate would get the fans excited, but they also know just how good Cullen – who already has 14 Under-21 caps for the Republic of Ireland – could be if he is given a chance in the first-team.
Of course, it is a major step up from League 1 and the lower reaches of the Championship to bossing midfield for a side with grand ambitions, but West Ham fans would be patient with Cullen.
He is no longer a kid – he is four days older than Dele Alli – which shows that expecting him to be a regular starter or make a rapid jump need not beyond reasonable expectation.
If Pellegrini cannot find a suitable Kouyate replacement, West Ham fans should not panic. It may allow Cullen to get the break he has deserved for a while now and Declan Rice showed that the path from the academy to the first-team need not be closed.