Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole; just a few illustrious names who have been produced by the West Ham United Academy.
In more recent times, the likes of Mark Noble, Jack Collison and James Tomkins have made the transition from promising West Ham youngsters into Premier League footballers. So who next to break through into the West Ham first team and perhaps beyond?
After coming out on top in the Barclays Under-21 league table last season it would appear our future is once again in good hands. With the season entering the final stages, Allardyce will be sure to be looking into the transfer market to strengthen the squad. But let’s look at the youngsters already at his disposal who may be ready to make the step up. Arguably the most promising youngster at the club is Robert Hall. The lightning quick 19-year-old can play both on the wing and up front.
He has spent the past four months on loan at Birmingham and according to reports from the Midlands has been very impressive during his 13 appearances. This loan spell at Birmingham has followed a successful stint at Oxford where Hall bagged five goals in 14 appearances. Unlike a number of other youngsters at the club, Hall has gained experience while on loan and has been performing well in the Championship so clearly not a million miles away from getting a chance in the first team squad.
On his brief cameos for the Hammers first team, Hall has looked direct, skilful and a player who looks like he can make things happen in the final third. Personally I would like Big Sam to keep Hall at the club next season and try to use him when possible as the boy clearly has quality. Another striker with bags of potential and an academy goalscoring record to back this is 19-year-old Paul McCallum.
He finished top scorer in our successful Under-21 league campaign with six goals in 12 appearances. This earned him a loan to a struggling AFC Wimbledon side where he managed four goals in nine appearances and also won the Npower League 2 player of the month for January. Following that successful loan spell, McCallum joined Rochdale for a month last week. Perhaps McCallum is still a year or so behind the likes of Hall in terms of development but one thing is for sure, he knows where the back of the net is, something we have been crying out for all season.
Two players who have featured for the first team this season are defenders Dan Potts and Jordan Spence. Both particularly impressed in the FA Cup third round replay at Old Trafford where neither looked out of place and were in fact two of our best players on the night. Spence is a strange one for me. He is not, in football terms, what you would now call a real youngster at the age of 22. He has spent plenty of time away on loan at the likes of Leyton Orient, Scunthorpe and Bristol City. Whenever I have seen the defender play he has impressed me.
Composed, strong and appears to be fairly sound both tactically and positionally. There must be some kind of problem that Big Sam and those before him have seen in Spence for him not to be playing more games for the first team. You feel it has got to that stage now where Spence would either be given a run in the first team at right-back or given the chance of first team football somewhere else.
Personally I would like to see him given the chance as he hasn’t put a foot wrong in his brief outings for the Hammers and looks like a quality defender. As for Potts, I can see a big future at the club. The leftback played a few games in the Championship last season and barring the odd mistake, thoroughly impressed. Much like his father Steve, Dan looks composed on the ball and is improving with every game.
There are still mistakes in him but at just 18, this is expected but experience and game time are the perfect way to rid of these errors. With our current full-back situation not being our strongest suit, I would like to see both Potts and Spence being bedded into the first team squad, and potentially into the first XI over time. These are the four young players I have focused on but there are many more.
The particular one of interest will be Ravel Morrison currently on loan at Birmingham. The controversial midfielder has impressed for the Championship side but his attitude and character is a concern and I’m not convinced he is the way forward for West Ham. That being said I would love it if he proves me wrong. You also have the likes of George Moncur, Leo Chambers and Blair Turgott, who has proved a success during his loan spell at Bradford
We certainly are spoilt with gifted youngsters at the club and let’s just hope a few years down the line we are talking about the next Rio Ferdinand or Glen Johnson, and perhaps we might even be able to try and hold on to them this time.