I am writing this on the back of just switching off the TV having watched a great 2-1 win of ours over German opposition Freiburg in the absence of no West Ham fans. It was a really solid performance and this led us to breaking an English record of 17 games unbeaten in Europe.
I was sitting there thinking how long can the club maintain this brilliant run in Europe, and realistically how long can we continue to compete at this level? In my 34th year of having a season ticket I’ve never had it so good as a fan.
Financially, we are never going to be able to compete with the multi billions of investment that many Premier League teams now have, unless we get taken over by the same. Therefore getting players through at bargain prices will be crucial to our sustained success. The other recruitment method and one that we are famously referred back to is The Academy.
I think it is is fair to say that without the existence of our academy, the course of West Ham’s history on and off the pitch would be very different. The latest example of the academy being crucial to our positive direction happened this summer when we traded in academy graduate Declan Rice for £105m and replaced him with four quality players in Alvarez, Ward Prowse, Mavropanos and Kudus.
So where will the next academy talent come from that has the ability to make a difference to the first team? I’ve purposely skipped a few age bands and feel that the best group of players to focus on are our current under 18 youth cup and league division winners because they have already sampled success at the club.
One player that is continually grabbing the headlines at the moment is one of our young Northern Irish contingent in forward Callum Marshall. He has been in outstanding form for the Hammers’ Under-23s, scoring 12 goals in nine games.
This has resulted in him being recalled to the Northern Ireland squad for this month’s Euro 2024 qualification double-header against San Marino and Slovenia at Windsor Park. Marshall nearly made a goal scoring debut for his country against Denmark although VAR cruelly ruled out his last minute equaliser in the Scandinavian country.
He is definitely one to look out for and has continued to develop at a rapid rate since his signing from Linfield. The player turns 19 in November and surely he has a great future ahead of him if he receives the correct guidance and opportunities.
Another player with similar aspirations of being a regular for Northern Ireland and West Ham is Callum Marshall’s close mate, Patrick Kelly. He is a tireless midfielder with an incredible engine that gets up and down the pitch. He was another signing from Northern Ireland who had already played a few games in their top division having represented Coleraine as a very young player.
The midfield appears to be stacked with top talent and alongside Kelly are two other players who are close friends and massive West Ham fans. The first is the slightly more advanced George Earthy. The creative and tricky midfielder really stood out during the successful cup run and has already represented England at youth level.
We exclusively announced that he had signed a new three year deal with the club on our Patreon site which has since been confirmed by the club and this is great for all parties. Earthy played all six matches in the team’s FA Youth Cup run, scoring three goals; a vital late winner away to Burnley in the fourth round, a creative finish in the away win at Stoke City in the fifth, and a classy strike – West Ham’s equaliser – in the 5-1 final win against Arsenal. He also featured as part of West Ham United’s pre-season tour to Australia this summer, playing in the 3-2 win against local rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Another midfielder that needs a mention is the youngest out of the group and that is Lewis Orford. Not 18 until February 2024 the classy ball playing midfielder has represented England at youth level and has played above his age group for both his national side and West Ham.
As we have mentioned, his family are massive West Ham fans with his dad being a passionate season ticket holder. Orford has already been involved in a documentary about his early career made where they focused on him as a person and player at the early stages of their career. Orford comes out really well and a common theme with the players I’ve mentioned thus far is a strong family network at home to support them with their career.
I’ve had the pleasure to meet the dads of all the above mentioned players and all are very good men, who keep their sons grounded and provide them with the perfect supportive base to make it in the game. Two full backs who also have a great chance are West Ham-supporting Ryan Battrum, whose crucial goal against Ipswich set the lads on their way in the quarter finals and Oliver Scarles who had already impressed West Ham fans with a MOTM display away in Romania in last season’s Conference League.
They, alongside the highly regarded Kaelan Casey, provide the most likely first team players from the defence in the academy. Casey has already been on the bench a number of times throughout the last two seasons. Casey is good in the air, strong and solid in the tackle and has David Moyes as an already confirmed fan, which can only enhance his chances of making it should Moyes remain manager for the foreseeable future.
I have chosen to not talk about Divin Mubama who this year has already been chosen as a first team squad member and therefore establishing himself beyond youth level. It is now important that all these players continue to get their heads down, not let off the field distractions creep in and continue to make the commitment to giving their careers the best shot that they can.
The bottom line is, however, there are many talents at that level and even if just one of them makes into the first team then the academy has done it’s job again, although I am confident we will see more than the one make it.