Claret and blue tinted sunglasses off, very few of our academy and youth products will be good enough for Premier League football.
Every fan of any club wants to see young talent rising through the ranks to the first team but the reality is 98% of them won’t cut it in the modern game. West Ham United stand as a perfect example of this harsh but realistic truth, fans will wax lyrical about the youth products as they’re classed as ‘one of us’ but especially since the arrival of Big Sam, the youth at the Boleyn Ground have found chances hard to come by.
Sam Allardyce has been more ruthless than any previous Hammers boss when it comes to youth, seeing the likes of Montano, Hall, Stanislas and Hines out of the Upton Park doors, but as co-chairman David Gold pointed out, none of the youth who have been let go have gone onto play at the highest level since, so it is hard to argue against their judgement. Premier League football is not patient, certainly not when you are a side who will be challenging to stay in the top flight in what is almost seen as a mini-league outside the top 6.
There is precious little time to blood in youngsters, the two obvious options are cup games or the use of the loan system, both have their pros and cons as has been exampled in recent seasons. The two cups have become breeding grounds for youth since the mid-2000s as the Premiership became the number one competition to be involved in. Since Allardyce took the Boleyn Ground hot seat our cup games have seen us lose 4, win 2 and draw the once, not much of a cup run to give any youth the chance of match time really.
Alternatively, there is the loan system, which has seemingly proved wonders for our most exciting prospect of the 2013/14 season in Ravel Morrison, who spent last season at Birmingham City in the Championship. After a difficult start in the Midlands, Ravel knuckled down and was rewarded with some man of the match performances that led to him being a star feature throughout West Ham’s preseason fixtures leading up to this Premier League campaign.
This shows the benefits of the loan system, but time and time again we see our youth go out on loan and then leave the club permanently soon after. Two players that spring to mind are Freddie Sears and Rob Hall, the former now a fully-fledged Colchester man after loan spells with the club and the latter trying to break into a Bolton side in the second tier of English football. One thing that has always puzzled me is the complete lack of English players abroad, currently the best English players abroad are Anton Ferdinand, Nigel Reo Coker and surprisingly still playing Emile Heskey, and that surely speaks for itself.
International managers from the likes of Spain, Germany and Brazil travel the world and watch some of the best games around to see their players, whilst Roy Hodgson just tries to squeeze in as many free Premier League tickets as he can get. Following on from FA Chairman Greg Dyke’s comments at the start of the international break, England won’t start to compete unless there is a massive change but this doesn’t mean stopping foreign players coming to the PL, it should mean sending our youngsters abroad to teams like Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk to gain a complete footballing education.
The Premier League is a fantastic competition, but it is close-minded of English fans and players not to try their hand abroad in the Bundesliga, Serie A or La Liga. Since Allardyce’s arrival the only player to really come through the academy and stay in the first team squad is Danny Potts, a good left-back who with time should come to be a regular in claret and blue, and one who will learn a lot from the experience of summer signing Razvan Rat.
But with Sam at the helm, will any other youngsters in the lower age groups or development squad get their chance? History would point towards it being very limited as Allardyce has never been known for his faith in youth. But perhaps he is right, not every youth product has the quality for Premier League football and in his time he has given chances to a young Kevin Nolan and now Manchester United and England utility man Phil Jones.
Whilst since his arrival he has introduced Potts to the squad and is now giving Morrison game time and tentatively introducing Elliot Lee to the top flight, the West Ham boss may be ruthless in his view of youth but he isn’t blind to raw talent. With the summer arrival of Danny Whitehead from Stockport County and the return of Dylan Tombides from serious illness, within the club there is a lot of hope for the youngsters coming on behind the scenes at West Ham United.
With a cup game against Cardiff coming up, it is a chance for the youngsters on the edge of breaking into the first team squad as well as the older fringe players to impress Big Sam, expect the likes of Lee and Morrison to feature. West Ham have always been a club that has prided itself on having the ability to bring through some terrific players, the academy of football tag might not be in full swing in recent years but with Tony Carr in the background it will always be bubbling under the surface. Our first season back in the Premier League was survival at all costs, no time to blood in youth, but avoiding second season syndrome will see West Ham building for the future.