We’ve had the tag of the Academy of football ever since the days of Moore, Hurst and Peters all reached legendary status within the English game. Now the boys of ’23 are trying to write their own little bit of history.
Our under-18s squad have enjoyed a season to remember bagging a league and cup double under the watchful eyes of Mark Noble and David Moyes. The young Irons cruised to the Premier League South title winning 18 of their 21 games played to date, and added the club’s first FA Youth Cup success since 1999 at the Emirates Stadium in emphatic style beating Arsenal 5-1.
The club will hope the current crop can emulate the careers of the 1999 heroes with the likes of Joe Cole and Michael Carrick both enjoying glittering careers in the game. In this current alumni, the club have several players that could easily make the next step up.
indeed, Sporting Director Noble has indicated a cull of the current under 21s squad to give a pathway to the age group below. Our under 21s were languishing at the bottom of their league at the start of the season before the likes of Divin Mubama, Ollie Scarles and co entered the equation.
Since then the under 21s have pulled away from trouble with many other members of the under 18s also making the step up almost effortlessly. Mubama and Scarles have also made an impact at first team level with appearances in the Europa Conference League for David Moyes’ side with Mubama even scoring against Larnaca in the Round of 16.
I honestly see Scarles as Cresswell’s long-term replacement, and Divin as Antonio’s long-term replacement. Mubama is built similarly to Antonio. He’s big, quick and strong, and his ability to finish is second to none.
I fully expect to see him involved in first-team matchday squads regularly from next season onwards. It would be easy for me to name those two as the future stars of West Ham, but I am going to look at one or two others that could join them.
Of course, it is important to point out that the likelihood of all of these ‘making it’ as Premier League pros is almost miniscule. But there is certainly promise amongst this squad to suggest they could help the Hammers in the long term.
The next cab off the rank you’d have to think is George Earthy. A combative, hard-working and technically-gifted midfielder, who has impressed me every time I have seen him play. Earthy starred in the Hammer’s 5-1 success against the Gunners in the FA Youth Cup final and it was his goal that settled Kevin Keen’s men down after the Irons fell behind early.
His sweet long-distance strike brought Keen’s men level, and they went on to take the lead minutes later through another exciting youngster Callum Marshall. The Northern Irishman, who joined from Linfield, has made an instant impact at youth level for West Ham.
I remember seeing him play in preseason against Tottenham where we bagged four goals in the Next Generation Cup final. His movement and finishing really caught the eye, and even back then, it was easy to see the potential in the front line with him, Mubama, and current captain Gideon Kodua.
Kodua is a lovely story as well, signed from the local Newham District team, having been released from numerous other academies, Kodua is seen as a ‘late bloomer’ having only joined the academy aged 13. He is quick, strong and much like Marshall and Mubama, a deadly finisher. His delightful long-range lob at the Emirates has even seen FIFA’s official Twitter page tweet about its spectacular nature.
It is also promising to see him leading the team. It is another feather in his cap being a role model and captain. A quick mention for Patrick Kelly as well, who alongside Earthy, has been superb in midfield.
He’s another player who was signed from Ireland. He is tenacious, hard-working and like everyone else on this team, extremely technically-gifted. These are exciting times for the club. The production line for academy talent has been faltering in recent years with only Declan Rice and Ben Johnson really making the grade since Mark Noble’s rise to prominence in 2004.
To have four or five players who could really make the cut is something that the scouts, and coaching staff can be really proud of. Credit must go to Kevin Keen and his team who have nurtured this team and got them playing some wonderful entertaining football.
The future is bright, and the future is most certainly claret and blue. If any of them turn out half as good as Carrick, Cole or Moore and Hurst, we will well and truly be thanking our lucky stars.