However inevitable it may have become the news was still something of a shock. This summer it was announced that, after 40 fantastic years of fantastic service, West Ham legend Tony Carr had been replaced as the head of the club’s famous academy.
The hugely respected youth coach, who had played a huge role in developing the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and even John Terry, has now taken an ambassadorial role at the club. Terry Westley, who formerly ran the academy at Birmingham City, will take charge of academy affairs from now on.
That’s probably not the news most of us wanted to start the season with really, is it? The looming move to Stratford, and the uncertainty that such a vast change brings to a football club, has left supporters clinging on to whatever it is that makes West Ham what it is.
Tony Carr and youth system, one great enough to be dubbed the ‘Academy of Football’, was very much part of it. I think we’d all agree though that over recent seasons the production line hasn’t been as effective as it used to be. The golden generation of Cole, Lampard, and Ferdinand are all coming to the end of their careers while it has been a while since a player of the quality of Michael Carrick, Mark Noble and James Tomkins has been produced.
Can we say that in recent seasons there has been any player to make a real, long-term impact? Not if we’re being honest. To have a quick scan over last season, there were signs of discontent within the youth side. There was a very public glimpse into future in the FA Cup match at Nottingham Forest, when several of the academy played as West Ham suffered the heaviest third round defeat of the Hammers since 1926 and let in five.
Add this to the fact the Hammers have let several young players go since the beginning of last season, and we can see that all is not well. Rob Hall, Jake Larkins, Eoin Wearen, Callum Driver and Jordan Spence have all departed despite having been labelled the ‘next big thing’ at one time or another
This is probably no fault of Tony Carr. As optimistic as I am, and as far as I go to back Sam Allardyce, I can see that he might not be the right fit for the development of our youths. Having said that, as the saying goes, a change can be as good as a rest. So perhaps to shake it up a bit in order to fit the policies of Gold, Sullivan and Allardyce might just work out?
This, of course, also depends on how Carr’s replacement gets on. But what do we know about the incoming Terry Westley? Well, he’s brought a few names through the ranks at a variety of clubs including Tom Huddleston, Matthew Upson, Kieron Dyer and Giles Barnes. He also, perhaps notably, has Titus Bramble in his portfolio.
The former Luton Town and Derby County manager held the academy director position at Birmingham City between 2006 and 2011. He got his under-18 side to a quarter-final and semi-final of the FA Youth Cup, a competition which West Ham have always seemed to take seriously.
Gold and Sullivan appointed Westley at Birmingham, and it seems he didn’t leave the club on bad terms with the new owners. This could be a good opportunity for him to prove himself in football once again at a club that is looking to recapture its ambition and build for a brighter future.
Westley had told the Birmingham board that their youth system needed to be pushed to the next level. This guy clearly doesn’t lack ambition and isn’t shy to tell it how it is. He has also held the post of the Premier League’s head of professional development and was involved in the creation of the Barclays Under-21 Premier League, another competition that our club is proudly represented in and is very interesting to spectators.
His theory in creating this competition was that the best young players in the top clubs were playing against one another, something that he said paid off when working with Birmingham. Development at this level can only improve your first team, so long as there is good communication and liaison between all parties.
From a sentimental point of view, it is very sad to see an influential and ambitious man as Tony Carr step aside from his role, especially one he has done so well. But a fresh perspective may see West Ham’s academy get back on top of its game and once again produce the kind of player who can shine for both club and country.
Westley has got a tough job ahead of him and he’s got a lot to live up to from years gone by. If he proves to be half as successful as Tony Carr was in the role we might be in for an exciting ride. I for one am excited about what the future might offer.