There are fewer things that please us fans more than to see one of their own breaking through and cementing a place in the first team, the latest cab off the rank could be 21-year-old Ben Johnson. The Waltham Forest-born full-back joined the club aged seven and it seems he is now banging on David Moyes’ door with a string of stellar performances at the start of the 2021/22 season.
With clean sheets in each of his six starts this season including games against Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham, he has done his chances of becoming a first-team regular no harm whatsoever. His chance came after Vladimir Coufal was kneed in the unmentionables by Nemanja Matic, although Johnson started the League Cup encounter against Manchester United, with Coufal picking up that knock it meant he kept his place in the side allowing him to continue his fine form.
Athletic, positionally sound, good on the ball and blessed with decent pace the Academy graduate has everything you need to be a successful full-back in the top flight. Gone are the days that wide defenders were just in the team to clear the ball to the more skilled players in midfield and up-front.
In the modern era of football, the majority of assists come from the full-back area. If you look at the likes of Liverpool in recent years – tonnes of their goals, come via the boots of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson. Likewise with West Ham with Aaron Cresswell and Coufal.
Having joined the Academy at aged seven, there is hope that he could be the next big thing to come out of an Academy of football that has been stalling of late with only Declan Rice and Jack Collison making names for themselves in recent history aside for the obvious Mark Noble. What will further help Johnson’s cause is his ability to play both left and right back.
You would think Coufal would be hard to shift at right-back given his form last season, but with Cresswell rumoured to be wanting to head back up north in the not too distant future it is reassuring to know that Johnson could fill that potential void in years to come. Having won the Young Player of the Year award last season, he has kicked on further this season, if he can add a couple of elements to his game, he could be a top defender for many years.
For me, he needs to improve his final ball into the box, as well as becoming a little more assured when clearing the ball. I have seen a couple of times this season where he has panicked and hacked the ball across his own box. That will improve with experience of course, but if he can do that the future is looking very bright for him.
It is easy to forget that he has only made 21 appearances for the Irons, and a fair few of those have come against the top sides including his debut against Manchester City at the Etihad where he excelled in a 1-0 loss. Having suffered two serious hamstring injuries early on in his West Ham career, it is lovely to see him breaking through, he plays with a smile on his face and seemingly gets the values of playing for West Ham United.
He works hard, plays with passion and seems to care a great deal about a club he has been a part of for 14-years of his life. Hopefully, he can continue to make a name for himself, so that commentators talk about Ben Johnson, for his own ability rather than lazily talking about his cousin Ledley King or his uncle Paul Parker.
Although, if he can carve out a career similar to those two, I think West Ham fans would take that in a heartbeat.
There is a long way to go in the youngster’s development, but the signs are positive with a string of very impressive displays from Johnson this season, and I would be more than pleased to see an Academy graduate come in and dislodge Cresswell or Coufal in the next few seasons permanently.
After all, historically the full-back area has been our greatest issue so to have someone breaking through would save the club a small fortune.