Academy & Under 18s
During recent seasons we have seen a lack of players break into the team from the youth set up. Many have questioned the reasons behind this. The academy was awarded level 1 status and of course still has the legend of Tony Carr working behind the scenes to attract and nurture the best talents although sadly and tragically no longer supported by the talent spotter extraordinaire Jimmy Hampson. So why is it that we haven’t really seen any youth player establish themselves in the squad in recent years? The last two squad players to establish themselves from our youth team are Tomkins and Collison, although the later only joined the youth team aged 17, when Cambridge United’s youth team were abolished due to their financial difficulties.
People have put it down to Big Sam’s reluctance to play young players, a feeling that was especially noticeable when Robert Hall was allowed to leave. During the previous season, when questioned, David Gold on his twitter account stated that Hall was the biggest talent we had at the club. So why did he leave? I was very reliably informed that after his loan spell at Birmingham, Robert had developed an overly confident approach to his football and had insisted on a significantly high wage package for a player who had figured once in the premier league for us and had made demands for promises of first team involvement. It was felt he had the wrong attitude to make it at our level and that it was best that he did leave.
It would be fair to say that he hasn’t exactly started his Bolton career all guns blazing. In fact when you look at the youth players who have all left under Sam’s management: Sears, Hines, Stanislas, and Stech, for example, none of them have gone on to great things, or even semi good things! I believe if they are good enough then Sam will play them as has been proven by Ravel Morrison’s introduction to the side this year.
Questions have been asked whether there is any top English talent out there. You only have to look at the last England squad and see how few have come directly from the big clubs youth academies, most have been bought from other much smaller clubs. Some examples are Joe Hart-Shrewsbury Town, Chris Smalling-Maidstone United, Phil Jagielka-Sheffield United, Leighton Baines-Wigan, Kyle Walker-Sheffield United, and Ashley Young-Watford. So perhaps English talent really isn’t out there?
There have been some players from our academy who have featured in the past. George Moncur was one of the most highly rated players a year or so ago and who is very much in the mode of his father, although he hasn’t featured as much as he would have liked. Seb Lletget is another skillful midfielder, from the USA, who impressed massively in the Colchester pre-season game but unfortunately didn’t quite have the same impact in the other games, although someone who I do believe will make it in the game soon. We have seen Dan Potts who has impressed in a few games now and perhaps in the long term will establish himself as the clubs first choice left back. Leo Chambers featured against Cheltenham and had it not been for the outstanding display of Ravel Morrison I think more would have been said about his solid debut. Leo is a centre back who has been converted to a right back (Glen Johnson did similar) who has pace and an excellent work rate who we may see again in the next round.
I do think that a few of these players need another loan spell at a championship club, perhaps before they are ready because this has had many positive impacts in the past with players such as Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Glen Johnson, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe and Mark Noble have all benefited massively from such deals in the past.
Those of you who follow me on twitter will know that I have a keen interest in the youth academy and that I have tweeted about players from it and written about them in my other column. I will now share some of the players who I believe are worth keeping an eye out for with the hope that some of them break into the first team in a few years.
One of the most highly rated players in our academy is Sam Howes, a player who the club are very keen to protect and keep admirers away from. Sam, who is a 15 year old goalkeeper, has already played for West Ham under 18s and England under 16s. Despite our great academy it is very rare that top goalkeepers come along but in this case the club believe they have a hugely talented keeper on the books. He has regularly played above his age group and is currently regularly doing so. He had originally been with Crystal Palace youth team and has currently been with us for the last 5 years. He has the potential to go all the way and of course, as a goalkeeper time is certainly on his side. I have met him a couple of times and he is a good lad who is dedicated and had a wise head on his shoulders. The only downside is that he is a Chelsea fan!
Another player with a chance is Joe Powell. Some people would have probably heard of Joe’s older brother Jack who was in our academy for 10 years, and was offered a pro deal but ended up being released at the end of last season. Jack had trials with Charlton, Scunthorpe and one other lower league club which didn’t amount to anything. His luck turned when Chelsea, who he had scored a great goal against for us, offered him a trial and he featured in a number of their academy games and preseason matches, Well Joe is even more highly rated than Jack. He has been a real star for the under 15s. It was said that Joe and Jack’s dad was unhappy with how Jack was treated and he was going to potentially move Joe to another club with the likes of Chelsea, Aston Villa and Norwich said to be interested. A move to Chelsea was looking on the cards at one point, he hasn’t featured for us this year either, so I hope that we have been able to persuade him to stay.
Another youngster worth keeping an eye out for is Matt Carter – a 15-year-old central midfielder who has attracted attention from some of the big Premier League clubs. He has a very good engine and last season broke the SPARQ (Speed Power Agility Reaction Quickness) record for Premier League under 15s. As is shown by his success in the SPARQ tests he has a lot to offer physically and is also very technically gifted. Of course we will not see him this year but he is worth tracking in the under 18s games.
Kieran Bywater, no relation to Stephen, is another player who has played above his age for the development squad. He has captained many of the youth teams and is looking to make the break through to the first team within the next few years having turned 18 on Saturday 7th September 2013. Kieran who is from Cambridgeshire has a great attitude and will make it in the game. I hope he makes his mark with us, but we shall see.
Jordan Brown was recently signed from the Arsenal academy, as he felt he had more chance of making it at West Ham than at our North London rivals. He is an England under 16 forward who was regularly scoring for Arsenal and he has carried this on with us. He is someone I have personally seen play a couple of times before joining us and he really has an eye for a goal. Another England Under 16 international who we have in our ranks is Josh Cullen who is an exciting midfielder. Other who have a lot of potential are Lewis Page a defender, Kyle Knoyle a right back and Alex Pike.
On my twitter account this week I have been talking about Gabriel Fernando being on a six week trial with the club. He is a young South American midfielder who was at Manchester City’s academy before deciding his future lay elsewhere. Manchester United had been close to signing him but he has chosen to trial for us and by looking at his twitter profile he appears to be close mates with Ravel Morrison. In a 0-0 friendly against Spurs at Rush Green on Monday, Gabriel was said to have played ok and hit the bar with a chip. He arrives with good positive reviews from his time at City so hopefully if he signs he is another that could be pushing for the first team.
I hope that at least two of these players will go on to play for the first team at some point and maybe the academy will have a resurgence again. No pressure then!