Why are our Academy players struggling to make their mark?

Aji Alese's departure for Sunderland is the latest in a long line of youngsters to leave for new pastures

I’m not one to moan about West Ham, especially when we’ve been so successful and there is hope for a new and bolstered season ahead of us.

Nor do I want to question Moyes’ decision making for the sake of it, but with each parting of an Academy player who we’ve had hopes to see come into glory through the claret and blue, like Noble, to fulfill a sort of familial upbringing that equals our own success, there is a wonder — what is happening in the transition of players from Academy to first team?

Us fans still believe in the excellence and success of our Academy of Football, support it, and still take pride in it producing better footballers than any other club.

The heroes that championed England to their only World Cup were from the Academy, and our longest-serving Premier league player, Mark Noble, came from it.

Our current captain Declan Rice found his form through it, and a plethora of modern stars who had successful careers such as Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, and Frank Lampard are all graduates of the Academy.

That is why it makes it so much harder when we allow a youngster trained from childhood to get sold to another club.

Potential

There’s a fear that we’ve missed out on a potential world beater that we have put loads of investment into only for a rival club to steal our glory.

Such is the recent feeling most West Ham fans have about Aji Alese going to Sunderland, Sonny Perkins going to Leeds, and the unknown fate of Conor Coventry.

With all of our four first team centre-backs injured at one point last season, the current ages of Ogbonna and Dawson, and the injury that occurred to new signing Aguerd in pre-season, I can’t be the only fan puzzled that Moyes did not see Alese in a future role in the senior squad, especially as he received high praise from Academy coaches.

Aji played in the Europa League against Dinamo Zagreb and in recent pre-season friendlies, he’d shown some pace and passing ability.

He’s also a fabled left-sided defender of significant height and build at 6’4” with former Under-23’s manager Dmitri Halajko stating to the Athletic: ‘He’s quick, good on the ball, he has a nice left foot, good range of passing and defends well in one-on-one situations.

‘He’s a reliable, mature young man. But, most important, he’s a quiet leader. His leadership skills are at a high level.’

Childhood dreams

And with the exeunt of Academy players leaving West Ham, there is the mournful cry that as their childhood dream of playing for West Ham’s senior team has gone unfulfilled; the hope to be the next Noble or Rice — inspirations to them – is now gone. 

About his departure Alese said: ‘I live five minutes away from West Ham’s training ground and I’ve been there since the age of eight, so it could have been easier to stay but life isn’t easy and I’m ready for the challenge.’

While there wasn’t the same uproar of moving Alese on like there was witnessed in the turbulence of Grady Diangana’s departure, the bitterness of the failed relationship with Reece Oxford, or the sweet sadness of seeing Josh Cullen move on after what seemed a lifetime of loans, I wonder what is happening with our beloved Academy? 

Even though supporters back Moyes who has brought discipline, structure, and success to the first team, I’m left wondering why he doesn’t pull from the Academy and use our sacred weapon, especially in times where we’ve had the thinnest senior squad in the Premier League? 

Fatigue

This would seem a crucial arsenal to use in times of leanness, yet Moyes pushes a handful of hammers to injury-level fatigue instead of drawing from the fresh Academy bench, with only Ben Johnson as the single outlier for first team access in Moyes’ three years as manager.

Rice came into the team through Bilic, and was developed by Pellegrini into a midfielder.

Pellegrini was also the one who brought in Diangana and Jeremy Ngakia, and put Ben Johnson on the bench for the first time.  

Is it the modern generation wanting big gains too early and thus being dissatisfied without immediate gratification?

Pressure

Is it the pressures of the corporate nature of the modern game where youth don’t have a chance to break into the first team like they would have in the 1990s?

Is it simply poor management in transition at the club level to bring youth into team maturity? Or is it Moyes’ stubbornness to try new talent, writing off too quickly players that weren’t his picks?

With Dianagana to West Brom, Ngakia to Watford, Perkins to Leeds, Alese to Sunderland, and Cullen to Anderlecht, and now Burnley, we’re left to wonder — why are they good enough for them, but not for us? 

Are we dodging a bullet? Whatever happens, I wish our Academy-graduated players luck and success, and we move on to looking to the next young talent for new hope.

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