If you travel anywhere around the world and enter a Sports Bar and utter the words West Ham United you usually get a few responses; ‘Green Street’ to which many a Hammer will roll their eyes and shudder, ‘Upton Park’, ‘Bobby Moore’ and ‘the Academy of football’. To me, one of those four is something we should be most proud of, and that is talent in producing young players for the first team.
And Declan Rice’s emergence last season was the one real positive and highlight of last season, he brought the claret and blue back together again with his lion-hearted, proper West Ham nature. Not since the likes of Mark Noble and James Tomkins breaking through the system have the Irons faithful had someone they can relate to and be proud of, and what a player Rice is turning out to be by the way.
It is a new era at West Ham, Manuel Pellegrini is the man at the helm and one of the things I like about him is the number of young players he has managed to nurture and develop over his managerial career. At Malaga, a young Salomon Rondon burst on the scene under the Chilean, and he also tried to push through young players during his time in Manchester.
Although, the academy door isn’t as bursting at the seams as it once was in east London there are still one or two players that are knocking on the new manager’s door to let him know they are around. The Hammers have always had talent in their ranks, but they have never had a manager who believed in them enough to give them a genuine chance at the big time.
Sam Allardyce made it his mission to ruin the careers of many in one of the most selfish managerial ‘told you so’ moments in the history of West Ham United at the City Ground in the FA Cup. In truth, although he did give Reece Oxford and Rice their debuts, Slaven Bilic didn’t really have the nerve to really fully allow the younger players to immerse themselves in the first team fully.
The appointment of Pellegrini has united the Hammers again, both on the pitch and off it, there is a genuine belief that he is the turning point for West Ham United and you can bet the younger players are really buying into this potential opportunity and are dreaming of being the next Declan Rice.
First up is new signing Xande Silva, the Portuguese prodigy has immediately sprung on the scene with a hat-trick on his under-23s debut vs Spurs and followed it up with a goal against Manchester City in his very next game. A big strong lad, with pace to burn and an eye for goal, he may not have come through the Hammers academy but he could well prove to be one of the bargains of the summer for Pellegrini and his scouting team.
One man who has been knocking on the door for sometime and will be hoping that his new Chilean gaffer is the man to give him the chance he has been craving is Josh Cullen. Pellegrini is known to like diminutive stylish players and Cullen certainly fits that bill.
A good passer of the ball and a surprisingly tough tackler, Cullen could well find himself getting some game-time this season. Although, new signings Jack Wilshere and Carlos Sanchez may well halt his progress in the team once more.
Next up on the hotlist — is Nathan Holland — I know many people around the club are excited about what the former Everton youngster can bring to the party. A quick, skilful winger who has a deadly strike on him will have high hopes of impressing the new gaffer.
Injury hampered his development last season just as he was on the cusp of making some first-team appearances, he impressed in a cameo against a poor Bolton side in the league cup, and he quickly became the name on everyone’s lips in and around the London Stadium. He will be hoping that this could well prove to be his year. However, you fear that the influx of wing talent coming to the London Stadium this summer may well halt the youngster’s development.
Lastly, I’ll chuck a surprise name at you, Moses Makasi. The youngster spent the back end of last season on loan at Plymouth and by all accounts looked promising. This year may not be his season, but you would think he would be a man knocking on the door in years to come. These are positive times to be a West Ham fan, and these young players will want to join this wave of optimism sooner rather than later.