Manuel Pellegrini is the first manager we’ve had in a long time that has given our youngsters a chance. He is a class above the managers we have had for a while, and I can see why young players want to give their all for him.
Today the modern manager doesn’t give youngsters the chance and that’s why so many have to go out on loan. But Pellegrini seems to be willing to give our youngsters the opportunity to break into the first team and make a position their own.
Declan Rice has broke through and now he is the first name on the team sheet. In my opinion, if you are good enough, you’re old enough. I’ve heard that he has got the youngsters training with the first team and that’s brilliant – it certainly happened in my day.
In fact, if we were playing at home, John Lyall used to go and watch the youth team in the morning and then head up to Upton Park for our match. He knew everything about our youth team. He knew their strengths, and if he had ones coming through that would be good enough.
Young players coming through is what West Ham is – or was – famous for. The last batch of youngsters to shine were the likes of Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, and Joe Cole but Noble aside, we’ve not seemingly been producing players in recent years. If you can keep producing players then you have got a great supply for the first team and you know you don’t have to keep breaking the bank each time you need players because you may have the perfect replacement already at the club.
It’s so important to have a good youth set up but equally as important to give them a chance.
The modern manager hasn’t got the time to worry about putting youngsters in because their job is almost always on the line. They only need to have a run of six bad games and they’re out.
Under Lyall, we had bad seasons but he still kept his job.
One thing you do need to avoid is putting in too many youngsters at once and relying on them too much at a young age. They also need good experienced older players around them too – you need that balance and players who care about the younger players.
Billy Bonds was that player for us. He was a father figure to so many young players, and while they might not always like what he was going to say, they accepted it because of who he was and they knew he was doing it for their own good. In my playing days we had the likes of Tony Cottee come through but for me the most memorable was Paul Allen in my time.
When he came in he was very young and ended up playing in a Cup final. But John Lyall would give young players a chance. He never really worried about giving them an opportunity. Now for some of the youngsters who have had their chance this season, they now need to work on progressing and working towards getting another opportunity.
Some of them, however, might not make the grade longer term. For every player like Declan Rice, you have three or four others who don’t make it. For some of these players it’s just having a bad experience early on and that knocks them back for a few seasons and they never realise their potential.
It’s a difficult thing to understand and it’s part of a good manager to notice it and manage the situation and know when to put them in and when to give them time away to develop more. You only have to look at Reece Oxford. He perhaps wasn’t managed correctly.
He was brilliant on his debut against Arsenal and he thought he had made it. But then the next game he really was poor. You could see as the game went on that he wasn’t even getting a touch.
Pellegrini might have played him and then taken him back out, perhaps put him on the bench for the next game. I’m looking forward to seeing how Pellegrini continues to introduce our young players into his plans.