The next generation of West Ham United talent is emerging after seven Academy graduates signed on the dotted line to confirm their first professional contracts. It was a very solid season for United’s Academy in the 2019/20 campaign, eventually finishing runners-up in the Premier League South division under the tutelage of lead coach Kevin Keen. All seven of the new recruits also appeared regularly in the Under-23s, while some impressed for their respective national teams, including Scotland’s Harrison Ashby and Nigeria’s Daniel Jinadu.
Although David Moyes’ first-team squad are embroiled in a dogfight to avoid relegation from the Premier League, with oddschecker’s EPL relegation market rating them fourth favourites for the drop, it’s pleasing to see the Hammers continuing to put their faith in homegrown prospects. With training resuming at Chadwell Heath, these seven graduates will get a chance to impress under the watchful eye of the senior coaching staff in the coming weeks. They could have an even bigger role to play next season if the Hammers do fall through the relegation trapdoor.
- Sam Caiger: After spending almost the first 12 months of his Academy scholarship shaking off injury, Caiger has cemented himself as a regular this term. Equally capable at full back on either flank, he is a two-footed defender that likes to get forward and create.
- Harrison Ashby: Another full-back, Harrison Ashby, has been a regular international in the Scottish Under-19s squad. Ashby is another forward-thinking full-back that likes to get forward and has even inched his way into the Under-23s at times this term. His athleticism is a key attribute given the physical demands of the EPL.
- Will Greenidge: A virtual ever-present in the Academy side this term, Greenidge is yet another full-back with impressive athleticism and technical pedigree. His stamina and desire to get up and down the pitch is there for all to see, which should stand him in good stead for the rigours of the modern game.
- Keenan Appiah-Forson: A tigerish, box-to-box midfielder, Appiah-Forson is another graduate that’s highly regarded in the Academy of Football. His tenacity and work-rate make him a genuine contender to break into not just the Under-23s but the first-team squad in the next 12-18 months. He’s already appeared for the Under-21s in the Leasing.com Trophy.
- Dan Chesters: Daniel has impressed hugely during his two-year scholarship. As a dynamic attacking midfielder, Chesters has been one of the leading creators in the Academy side this term, with four assists to his name. He’s also featured regularly in the Under-23s side, racking up his first Premier League 2 assist against Fulham in December.
- Joshua Okotcha: Powerful central defender Joshua Okotcha captained the Academy side impressively. He is a self-confessed student of the game and has all the physical and technical attributes to grow at the highest level. In 2017/18, Okotcha was deemed ready to appear ten times for the Academy side before even agreeing scholarship terms.
- Daniel Jinadu: Nigeria-born keeper Daniel Jinadu is the latest in a long line of promising goalkeepers to come through the ranks at the Academy of Football. After turning down Chelsea to join the Hammers full-time in 2017, the excellent shot-stopper has done more than enough to earn a pro deal. He shone for Nigeria at the 2019 FIFA U17 World Cup, helping the Super Eagles to the last 16.
One recent graduate from the Academy of Football that looks highly unlikely to remain a Hammer is full back Jeremy Ngakia. The 19-year-old, who made his senior debut at the turn of the year, has so far spurned the advances of the United hierarchy who want to tie him down to a new long-term contract. He is out of contract at the end of June and the Guardian reports he has refused to sign a new £5,000-a-week deal. The club is said to be “dismayed” at Ngakia’s stance, but the report also suggests the club has even higher hopes for homegrown right back Ben Johnson, which may be a factor in Ngakia’s decision to seek a move elsewhere to further his development.