The full-back area has long been a position of contention for a number of years now, with the right-hand side in particular being an issue with the quality of depth behind Coufal looking short. One man though that has found himself sliding down the pecking order is West Ham Academy graduate Ben Johnson.
The 23-year-old has yet to make an appearance in the Premier League and is slowly falling out of the circle of trust at West Ham. When the versatile Waltham Forest-born youngster broke into the first-team, there were high hopes as he entered the squad in a troubling time with the Hammers facing relegation danger.
During the Covid season, he made his debut in the memorable 3-1 success against Watford at the London Stadium. Johnson has always been blessed with pace and composure but he can struggle with concentration and positioning.
To get into a David Moyes side though, you need to be defensively astute and reliable. It is noticeable that Moyes brought in Kehrer and Mavropanos who both provide cover for Coufal. This has pushed him out of the first-team plans, indeed making his only performance in the much-changed starting XI against Lincoln in the League Cup.
There were signs that he may have found himself in the squad in a new role as part of a back five, and a more central defensive role, but with new arrivals in the summer those hopes even diminished. There were rumours of a possible move away from London for Johnson towards Deadline Day with Southampton sniffing around, but that didn’t materialise leaving him fighting for minutes with the occasional minutes with our youngsters.
It is impossible not to want the best for Johnno. An infectiously positive person who always plays with a smile. Frankly the Hammers academy could do with a player breaking through with Noble now retired and Rice moving on. Johnson seemed like the next cab of the block.
It hasn’t played out like that though, and you sense that he may need a move away to kick-start his career again. There is most certainly a player in there, you do not get into the England youth ranks if you are a bad player.
He helped Lee Carsley’s men to win the European Championships in July 2023 to add to his Conference League success with his club side. He will hope European football will give him opportunities to impress Moyes and those on-looking scouts.
He has tasted plenty of football in Europe helping the Hammers reach the Europa League Semi Finals in 2021/22 as well as memorably helping us during our successful Conference League campaign ending in Prague. If Moyes’ men are to do well on all fronts this year, the fringe players like Johnson, Cresswell, Fornals and Ogbonna are going to all need to play their part.
Ogbonna, in particular, will hope to improve on his start in the Europa League after his error in our opening game against Serbian minnows TSC Backa Topla. My concern for Johnson is that maybe the Hammers have out-grown him. The 23-year-old’s ceiling, in my mind, at least, is probably lower Premier League ability wise, and with Moyes’ men looking to progress into regular European contenders, it means Johnson needs to leave the club.
You feel as though the only reason Johnson is still at the club is due to his handy ability to act as a club-grown player, which is so important for European squad registration. However, should the club again reach European football next season, the club will have plenty of youngsters banging on the manager’s door for those vital squad places.
Johnson needs to ensure that he continues to work hard in training, improve his concentration levels as well as his positioning and he could still yet make the grade. However, you feel as though he needs to take every single opportunity that he’s given as you would think they would be limited.
You wonder, if he will end up regretting not forcing a move away from the Hammers, however, it hasn’t worked yet for Flynn Downes who did end up getting a move away to Southampton. The Saints have struggled and Downes hasn’t impressed perhaps as much as the West Ham coaching team would hope.
If Ben does move on, it wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up at a newly promoted club or a lower-level Premier League club like Crystal Palace, which would allow him to stay local. Hopefully this would also allow him to gain vital minutes as he looks to improve his chances of becoming a regular top-flight professional, which I think many would be proud and hopeful to see.
My final words on Johnson are hopefully he can take his chance, enjoy a positive season that will hopefully end with further silverware that he can add to his cabinet.