Time to rise for West Ham academy star Aji Alese as Kurt Zouma faces the axe when the Hammers take on Watford at the London Stadium.
One thing young players are constantly being told at West Ham – and indeed in football academies the world over – is that when your chance in the first team comes along you have to grab it with both hands.
Only a very small percentage of young players ever progress into the first team from the academy system at Premier League clubs.
And that has certainly been the case for West Ham in the time since the golden generations of yesteryear.
The Hammers have an exciting crop emerging at various age groups. The likes of Sonny Perkins, Jamal Baptiste (both pictured above), Dan Chesters, Harrison Ashby, Manny Longelo, Freddie Potts and Alese have all tasted first team action.
And David Moyes has proved he is willing to give young players a chance. But having a chance and taking it are two very different things.
Actually establishing yourself in the West Ham team as a youngster under Moyes is no easy task given his expectations and demands.
West Ham face a difficult situation right now. Issa Diop’s Hammers career looks in tatters. He was jeered off after a shambolic performance in defeat to Leeds and dropped for the narrow last gasp loss to Man United as Kurt Zouma returned to the fold.
Diop came back into the side for the FA Cup match against Kidderminster Harriers. But he endured a torrid time against the National League North outfit and was hauled off at half-time.
Time to rise for West Ham academy star Aji Alese as Kurt Zouma faces axe
West Ham fans expected that to be the last they saw of Diop for some time.
But the likes of The Evening Standard are reporting that Zouma will be banished from the West Ham squad – for at least the game against Watford – due to the widely publicised video showing him kicking and hitting a pet cat.
Ordinarily, Moyes would revert to experience and Diop would come back in. And that may well prove to be the case again.
I firmly believe, though, that this could be a watershed moment for young central defender Aji Alese and the academy captain’s time to rise.
Alese has impressed every time he has been given a chance in the first team. He has pace, power and presence. And he is clearly a well respected individual given he is the development side’s skipper.
Crucially too he is that rare thing Moyes was scouring Europe for in January, a left-footed centre-back like long-term injured star Angelo Ogbonna.
West Ham have seriously missed that balance of having a left-footed CB in the side since Ogbonna was ruled out for the season due to an ACL injury.
Alese would bring that as well as youthful exuberance. And what better way for West Ham to respond to the controversy swirling around the club than by giving a young academy player his big chance.
Yes Moyes prefers his centre-backs to be experienced. But Craig Dawson would be alongside him. He has more than enough experience for the both of them and would undoubtedly help the 21-year-old throughout the game.
Sometimes you don’t know how these young players will fare until they are thrown in at the deep end.
And I’m supremely confident Alese would swim freely.