Many people will have had a moment in life where they feel they’ve made the most of the opportunities they’ve been given, but the big one always seems to be out of their reach.
It is impossible to know whether Josh Cullen feels this way, but if he did it would be pretty hard to blame him.
At 23-years-old, the academy graduate has still only ever played nine first-team games in claret and blue and is now on his fifth loan spell.
He was one of the standout performers while in the academy, as signified by the fact he won the Dylan Tombides Award in 2014, before working his way up to captain of the U21s in the following campaign.
Another season, another step. Cullen made his first-team debut at the beginning of the 2015/16 campaign, playing both legs of the Hammers’ 4-0 aggregate win over Lusitanos in the Europa League, before also featuring in the loss to Astra Giurgiu that saw Slaven Bilic’s men get knocked out.
Having faded into the background during the first half of the season – playing one solitary first team minute – he was then shipped out on loan to Bradford City, where he instantly became an important player.
The big indicator he was potentially worth giving a chance to shortly followed. Cullen played 82 minutes of West Ham’s grand friendly against Juventus and impressed.
There are often youngsters who give a good account of themselves during friendlies, but this wasn’t against some lower league team, Cullen did this while facing the likes of Miralem Pjanic and Paulo Dybala.
Regardless of the performance, he was loaned out to Bradford again a few days later. Safe to say he impressed during his second spell with the club, as he went on to sweep up four individual awards at the end of the campaign.
A season in the Championship with Bolton Wanderers followed before he went off to Charlton Athletic for the 2018/19 campaign.
During that season he made 32 appearances, scoring one goal and assisting six times, but what will stand out is his performance in the play-off final that got them back into to the Championship.
The game hung in the balance with mere seconds left and Charlton had a free kick.
They ended up working it towards Cullen near the corner flag and the man with 24 on his back had the peace of mind, as well as the skill, to play a one-two with his teammate, work a yard of space for himself and put in a pinpoint cross that landed right on the head of Patrick Bauer.
As the German got the ball into the net at the second attempt, Cullen hurtled across the pitch to celebrate with his teammates. While watching on, there was hope in the mind of some that his West Ham career could go forward with similar vigour.
While all of the aforementioned incidents had been going on, Cullen had also been climbing the Republic of Ireland ranks, even winning U21 Player of the Year in 2017. Following the glory of victory in the play off final, he earned his first call up to the senior squad.
Even if he didn’t manage to get his debut, it seemed as though things were falling into place and he was finally getting his opportunities on the biggest stages – all that was left was the opportunity to show what he can do in claret and blue over a season.
He gave a pretty good account of himself during preseason and much of the summer had passed without there being too much talk surrounding a move
It seemed as if he was finally going to get that opportunity, but then his loan move back to Charlton was confirmed just one day before the transfer deadline.
This seemed like the most damning loan move in terms of his West Ham future.
His contract ends next summer and it is difficult to see how he will earn a new contract with the Hammers when he isn’t even at the club.
Cullen has only ever had seven minutes of Premier League football in his entire career, it feels unbelievable that he hasn’t been given more than that.
As if to prove that he should have been given the opportunity back at London Stadium, Cullen put in a match-winning performance in his first game back for Charlton, making a goal saving tackle and putting in two crosses which led to goals.
While he is still under contract at West Ham, it now feels unlikely that he will be given an opportunity to show he can play for the club.
By no means would he have been a key man, but he certainly could have been a useful squad player, it’s just a shame he hasn’t had the chance to show it.