Down the years, our Football Club has lent it’s name to such tags such as the “Academy of Football” and while we have produced players like Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand in the last 20 years, what have we really produced in the last ten? Is our shambolic policy of loaning out any future prospect we may have to blame?
Since defender James Tomkins successfully came through the ranks and graduated into the first team back in 2008, it would seem that no academy Hammer has been able to achieve that feat. Instead, our young starlets have been sent on a series of loans to mundane lower League sides for the duration of their West Ham careers, until a couple of years and pointless loans spells later, their contracts are terminated as a “mutual decision”.
However, a few youngsters are lucky to make their first-team debuts, but what becomes of them? Take, for example, Freddie Sears, the then 18-year-old scored the winner in his senior debut against Blackburn in April 2008, Sears was then put through a series of goal-starved loans and is now with Ipswich Town. The Premier League dream that the Hornchurch born former England U21 man would have seen himself live up to is now but a world away. Many Hammers fans were left to question whether Sears could have perhaps been the next Harry Kane if he wasn’t loaned out so many times.
In recent years, we have let players such as Blair Turgott, Elliot and Ollie Lee, George Moncur, Lewis Page and Diego Poyet go, just to name a few. How many of these players would be a regular first-team fixture nowadays if they were just kept closer to the senior squad? It is clear to see that we have come a long way since the days of the “Academy of Football”, but many would argue that the club has actually travelled too far in the wrong direction since then. You only have to look at the fathers of some of these young talents that we have let go, to see their real potential.
The” Academy of Football” seems to keep popping up in this article, so let’s delve into the way that we managed to transform some of these youngsters into world Football superstars, around the turn of the century. Frank Lampard: it took all of nine games on a loan with Swansea City for then Hammers manager Harry Redknapp to realise that the youngster was the real deal. After his re-call, Lampard was able to instigate himself in the first-team. All in all, the 39-year-old spent less than six months on loan; he then went onto be capped 106 times for England and win the Champions League with Chelsea. Rio Ferdinand: much like his compatriots, Ferdinand only ever made ten appearances on a loan at AFC Bournemouth and the story is very much the same as Lampard’s. He would go onto win The Champions League twice with Manchester United. Michael Carrick: another Champions League winner and a player that played only eight times in two very short loan spells while under Redknapp. Joe Cole: many a Football fan could argue that the skillful midfielder never quite fulfilled his potential, but Cole still had a very illustrious career that included three Premier League titles. Joe Cole was never forced to endure a single loan in his whole career. Surely you are noticing a trend? A contrast between how the young starlets of today are being treated, with the refreshing approach of minimal loans that was adopted with these Legends of English Football at our club.
One may argue that we haven’t been gifted with the youth talent that we had been in previous years within the last ten years, but with our current U23 side we surely have. Our young starlets are entering the 2017/2018 season off the back of two trophies in as many seasons. However, players such as Reece Oxford, Reece Burke, Antonio Martinez, Martin Samuelson, Marcus Browne and Josh Cullen have still spent the last two seasons rotting away on loans, and not in the first-team where they deserve to be. Whilst players like Jonathan Calleri and Robert Snodgrass have been putting in dreadful performances ahead of them. What message does this send out to our homegrown talents? Surely, we have the potential to create another “Academy of Football”, but we must start involving these scintillating young players in the first team before it is too late.