Academy & Under 18s

Will Ajibola Alese Be The Next Defender To Come Through From The Academy?

In a week when West Ham youth players are grabbing the plaudits for their FA Cup exploits I thought it an apt time to have a look at a future prospect yet to break through.
Aji Alese turned 17 years old yesterday (at time of writing), three days after Declan Rice turned 19. Following birth dates may well simulate subsequent paths in to the first team for Aji in relation to Declan. Looking a very solid CB Aji has already been promoted from Steve Potts’ U18’s to the U23 Prem League 2 team where he’s played an 80 minute match against, reigning champions, Everton in August. After a long lay off he’s made further 2 full games versus Manchester United and Leicester U23’s. Tough fixtures all which makes the fact that Terry Westley’s team did not concede a single goal during Aji’s 260 minute time with them all the more impressive. So impressive that the U23 gaffer lauded his performance in the post Leicester match interview. You can view highlights of the game, and the manager’s summary, at the development fixtures page of the official site by clicking here.

To think young Aji is only 16. Second game back. He’s fully spent in the dressing room right now. He’s very, very tired but an outstanding performance for me. – Terry Westley

Embed from Getty Images

As recently as last term he was in the U16’s. Playing part of the season with the U18 promotion squad he bagged the team’s second in the comeback 3-3 final game, of 2016-17, away to Arsenal. For a lad of sixteen to go up against seasoned professionals at U23, Premier League 2, level says a lot about the maturity and physicality of Aji – not to mention he likes to get forward for balls in to the box which was illustrated to good effect by his goal at Arsenal where he controlled and finished brilliantly from Joe Powell’s cross.
Naturally right footed but can play on Right or Left side of Central defence he has also been wearing the coveted number 6 on his back and is developing a good partnership with Akinola at the heart of defence.

Embed from Getty Images

Having captained England at U15 level, with previous representation at U16’, Aji is rated as one of the best prospects in the Premier League. Both Citeh and Liverpool were chasing him last Summer but he’s signed a deal with West Ham until July 2019 thanks to Slaven Bilic’s foresight in beating the two, top four, sides to his signature. Should David Moyes remain beyond this term I suspect he’ll be keeping a close eye on Aji.

With Reece Burke grabbing the winning goal on Tuesday night things are certainly looking healthy for the defenders from the academy of late. Mr West Ham, in his understated and down to earth way, had some words of encouragement for him after the game as shown in the following video : -

With many stand out performances for West Ham in the Academy team Aji continues to go from strength to strength. West Ham seem to have assembled something of a Centre Back production line in recent years and Aji could well be the next to make a breakthrough. I, for one, certainly hope so.

COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!


The GoatyGav Column

What’s Our Best Formation With The Players We Have?

‘Identity’ seems to be the buzzword when describing the various Modi Operandi of Premier League sides this season. It’s important to point out that I don’t mean that in a negative way. I think it’s great that you can paraphrase the approach that managers set up for their players on match-days. After all – some coaches work tirelessly and endlessly on skills and drills sessions to mold their players to suit their overall systems. Generally the most successful teams all have players who ‘understand the system’ best and have a clear way of playing. Not always an easy task however. Formations, tactics and systems of play have become increasingly complex. My first real exposure to formations was on the Subbuteo pitch in the late ’70’s. After all – how should you set up your players on the green cloth? Nearly everyone I played, until I went to a Regional Tournament where the reigning English champion, Darryl Dunscombe, had his ten outfield players set up in a straight line on the edge of his defensive quart, used to go with either 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. I wonder how the kids of today set up? In case you were wondering how Ron Greenwood would have done it here’s the evidence.

Embed from Getty Images

I remember the oft used reason, for a certain methods being adopted by our recent managers, of ‘not having the players’ to play more adventurous football being debated upon across the West Ham family of websites and notice boards. The respective managers get their players in over 2-3 transfer windows, develop their ‘identity’ and are then replaced by another manager who has to start all over again. In Slaven’s case this was slightly less clear. In the end the amount of ‘direct’ football played was surprising. Personally I believe the injuries to players influenced Slaven’s ‘systems’, and it’s a contentious point that Slaven may have been left out in the cold on a couple of occasions when it came to recruitment, contributed to his inability to stamp his mark.

A very interesting article on SSN, recently, discussed the benefits of the use of drone cameras to help coaches and managers with positioning and shape. The detail that the coaching team, who were using the footage shot from the drone cam, gave a perfect angle to illustrate exactly how play was developing for all of the match situations during training sessions. These videos stimulated extremely valuable conversations between the coaches and players and some excellent learning was gained. I’m not a regular at the training ground but it wouldn’t surprise me to see us, and every other top tier club, adopt this method of reviewing training if we haven’t done so already. I’m sure that finding the ideal formation would be made a good deal easier should we do so. The following video outlines some of the benefits that, even, lower tier teams are gaining.

So what about the here and now? Presently It’s not so important to know how David Moyes wants to play rather that it’s how he’s able to play. With the current roster what’s really available? Three at the back seems to work better as there’s far less space to exploit in the channels, between the CBs and FBs, than when there are 4 at the back. It doesn’t seem that Zabba’s still able to ‘get up and down’ in a wing-back role. How to address that – especially with a back three? Lucas Neill’s legs had, supposedly, gone when he was with us but he was one of the best right backs we’ve had in the last couple of decades so does a 3-5-2 (or 3-5-1-1) work for more, to put it politely, experienced full backs? We certainly don’t have the players to go with a ‘front 4’ or ‘front 5’ in the same manner as some of the teams at the top. Chek & Pedro are not looking their best when played – let alone played together in holding roles. Nobes is playing some of the best football of his career, IMO, so should he be in every starting 11 despite the formation? With that in mind do we really want two holding midfielders in a starting line-up?

“Depends on who we’re playing,” I hear you say? Well yes, indeed it does, but a team will always have it’s preferred structure. Critics of Manchester United this season, many of who are of the Red Devil persuasion themselves, level the accusation that their manager is either playing negative football or doesn’t even have any discernible identity at all. It’s true that he does tend to adapt to the club his teams are playing, putting painstaking work in to his preparation, but one does wonder if he has an over-arching idea of his ideal first eleven with their positions and roles. He’s one of the best football managers on the planet, for my money, so I’d be amazed if he didn’t. Yes – he does tend to ‘spoil’ the opposition while putting the tactical onus on defence but there’s clearly a lot more to him than that.

Embed from Getty Images

Putting players in ‘pigeon-holes’ has been one of the practices that is being consigned to the history books. You’re no longer simply a ‘winger’, ‘central midfielder’, ‘centre back’, ‘full back’ or ‘striker/forward’. There are so many different positions and different ways of playing those positions it’s getting to the stage, now, where simple descriptions just don’t cut it. Almost every player has their individual qualities and it’s no longer possible to ‘place’ many in a specific role. Players of note often have positions named after them ala Claude Makelele with ‘The Makelele role’ describing a holding midfielder who breaks up opposition attacks and plays a simple, but effective, pass. On the subject of winning posession it’s interesting that some coaches tactics focus closely on taking full advantage of transitions – Jurgen Klopp being the prime example of this ‘Identity’ that’s been introduced to the Premier League more recently.

There is so much more to discuss on this subject I feel that I’ve not done it justice but, this being one of the more technical aspect of the game, it’s certainly worth hearing your thoughts. I fully understand that players may come and/or go in the January window. It’s looking like Diafra may be on his way very shortly so it’s probably not worth looking at putting together your own ‘best formation’ including him. So Sakho apart how would you set up?

COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!


The GoatyGav Column

Chek Kouyate, West Brom And The Two Halves Cliché.

Cheikhu Kouyate is presently shadow of his former self. More notable among his current shortcomings is his terrible touch, poor mobility and he often seems to be caught out of position. I find this extremely sad and one of the most detrimental aspects of this poor season to date. It seems an eternity ago that Tottenham coveted the Senegalese box to box midfielder. A personal favourite of mine he’s the only player I’ve ever seen go shoulder to shoulder with Yaya Toure, at the height of his powers, and come away with the ball. His attributes weren’t only useful in deep positions, either, as you’d often find him arriving in a timely fashion at the edge of the box, making, Billy Bonds style, surging runs forward or getting on the end of set pieces to score. So what’s happened to one of the former lynchpins of the team? I’ve seen, and heard, a fair few derogatory comments towards him recently. Despite this David Moyes seems to be keeping faith with ‘Chek’. So why would this be?

Embed from Getty Images

Form is temporary but class is permanent. For me Kouyate’s poor form is down to him having to play through the pain of his wrist injury. Since his operation I feel that he’s still recovering and it will be a little while before we see a return to his previous self. He is a class act, IMO, so I genuinely hope that we do see him back to his best. He’s just turned twenty eight years old and should be coming in to his prime. If he can bring back his old physical presence but with a more experienced head then we’ll have one top class player again. Not sure I’d be playing him for full 90 minutes of games, and I was surprised that it wasn’t him to make way, but Obiang instead, on Tuesday night, but it’s clear that David Moyes sees him as an integral part of the first team. I genuinely hope he’s ‘back on it’ as soon as possible.

Embed from Getty Images

My two lads and I enjoyed the game against West Brom. Their last game at the OS/LS was the 5-0 cup drubbing against Man City. Both commented on how the atmosphere does seem to be improving. Despite the half time boos, which I’d never be a part of, I also found it pretty good. When the crowd gets going there’s no disputing the fact it’s a very good noise that we generate within the ground. There was, however, a noticeable difference between the first and second halves of the game this week. Despite, what seems, the general consensus I thought we edged the first half and if it wasn’t for an excellent performance by Ben Foster we’d, at the very least, gone in on equal terms at the break. We had the better of the chances but, notwithstanding those opportunities that the boys carved out, it was frustrating watching. West Brom were poor and we were only a smidgeon better. What concerned me the most was the lacklustre nature of our movement. On the ball especially there were so few options due to the static nature of the players. It was no better without the ball and how McClean was allowed the time and space he got for their goal is beyond me. It was at that point I lost my voice – so loud I screamed at them (mainly Winston Reid) to close down.

Embed from Getty Images

Nobes is a revelation of late. He changed the game. When he came on for the second half there was more energy, movement, determination and positivity. We closed down quicker. We moved the ball at a higher pace and were more purposeful. It’s so great to see him returning to his best. He could have been saved for his favourite fixture, in which he always seems to play above himself, tonight but I’m glad he got a full half of football ahead of the derby with the Spudz. If he can influence the game as much as he usually does then we may well have a great contest to watch. Certainly hope so.

Embed from Getty Images

Carroll stuck at it and took both goals extremely well after fluffing his lines with an earlier chance. A decent run from him before his, seemingly inevitable next injury, could be invaluable to our season. Not for the first time could we be in a position, during a season, when a post Christmas boost is spearheaded by his goals and great contribution. What pleased me in particular, following my recent ‘Imperative to hoof’ article, was the low number of up-field punts during the match. Just goes to show – your don’t have to ‘go long’ to get the best out of ‘Wor Andy’. And wasn’t it a peach of a ball from Cresswell for the first? Cressers dipped in and out a bit for me but there’s no disputing the quality of his delivery at times.

Embed from Getty Images

Arnie’s great form continues. If there’s one thing he clearly needs to work on it’s his finishing and decision making when he gets in the box but his contribution is huge at present. He looks, and must feel, a massive threat to opposition defenders. Long may it continue and his confidence grow. I’ve mentioned it before but he seems to be striking up a good understanding with Lanzini. Manu was magical at times on Tuesday. Although he sometimes drifts out of games for periods he’s one who seems to come up with those match changing moments. His burst forward in the final minute of the game against West Brom, along with the quality of the ball played in to Arnie’s stride, made a huge contribution to the winner but the moment that I enjoyed most was the beautiful footwork to carve out his shot from inside the box in the first half. Were it not for the excellent goalkeeping of Foster it would have been an absolute beaut of a goal.

Embed from Getty Images

The entertainment wasn’t restricted to the on pitch fayre served up by the team. There was some superb banter. Particularly loved the response to the Baggies fans ‘chim chimney cheree’ from a crew of lads sat behind us with the line ‘we are Considerably Richer Than Yauuuu’ as well as the final line to Masuaku’s new chant except with the words ‘he sometimes gives the ball away’. Just added to my feeling that we’re beginning to make the stadium a ‘home’. Despite claims that the fans didn’t provide a vociferous support before our first goal my experience was that the first half frustration from the crowd was ‘par for the course’ but from the first kick of the second half it was loud, positive and provided a decent atmosphere. Fan for fan home support is never as good as away but what I heard was better than most games at Upton Park in the final few years after the pitch moved. The distance to the pitch will always be ‘orrible, unbearable for some in fact, but I hope the atmosphere continues to improve.
Declan Rice continued to impress. First time I’d seen him in a full back position and he did a sterling job. Absolutely love his body position when going in to challenge – textbook stuff that some of the more experienced players in our team could learn from IMHO. Sincerely hope he continues his journey towards establishing himself as a first team regular – a role I believe he’s already capable of fulfilling.

Embed from Getty Images
I’m going to end it there, on a positive note, rather than talk about more players who are currently struggling other than to say I hope we get stronger at the back – starting against our local rivals tonight.

COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!

Addendum. What a superb strike and great defensive performance last night. Four points from six in the two games this week were more than I’d hoped for. Now that the team have come through the difficult run of fixtures let’s hope we don’t see the typical West Ham response but continue picking up points instead.


The GoatyGav Column

Should I Stay Or Should I Go – Diafra Sakho

Following BlindHammer’s excellent post of Jim McWeeny’s ‘Songs From A Sleepless Night’ I thought I’d add a further suggestion with an old Classic from The Clash.

Early October HamburgHammer asked if Diafra Sakho was worth a contract extension. Now the January transfers are about to commence I thought it the appropriate time to debate the ‘Should He Stay Or Should He Go’ question.

Embed from Getty Images

He’s currently 28 years of age so if he does move on then another club will gain the benefit of Sakho in his prime. His contribution to the team often goes unsung. The options that he gives, his work in the channels and the way he pulls defences around are all tremendous contributors in matches. I’m not sure everyone appreciates just how good Diafra’s movement really is. Defence is another area he mucks in with. Over the last couple of seasons he’s not, really, had a decent run of games. For many players this would be a huge setback – one from which it would be difficult to get back up to full match capacity. When Diafra is called upon after a lay off he seems to, almost immediately, look like he is 5 games back in to his stride. Conversely Diafra has been on the scoresheet regularly when getting a run in the team. In his first season he broke West Ham’s Premier League record, and equalled Micky Quinn’s, when he struck six from six in his first half dozen starts – becoming the Premier League Player Of The Month in October 2014. Overall his strike rate is favourable compared to other forwards.

Embed from Getty Images

Sakho’s injury list is, relatively speaking, a long one. Although not as prolific as Andy Carroll he first spent time on the side-lines following an injury against West Brom before, controversially, pulling out of the ACON with Senegal. When his national team officials wanted him to fly to Senegal for a medical West Ham refused on the grounds of him being unfit to travel. Subsequently the club were fined 100K Swiss Francs after Diafra was played and scored the only goal of the game in the FA Cup victory against Bristol City – travelling to Ashton Gate in a Limousine. That said when my boys and I attended an open training session at Upton Park in 2015 it was Diafra who was the most charming and engaging player my boys encountered. He was already my older lad’s favourite so when reports of Diafra being questioned by Police following an alleged night club incident of assault on a woman it was a hard one for my son to get his head around – although I did explain to him that they were not necessarily true but were just allegations at that stage.
Earlier in 2017-18, during the open transfer window, Diafra was reported to have been attempting to force a move by taking it upon himself to travel to Rennes for a medical, which he passed, without the consent of West Ham. After returning to England, instead of attending training, he went to Chelmsford races to see one of his agent’s horses run in the 3.20. Wherever he goes there appear to be reports of behaviour less than exemplary. Some of it many would consider disruptive and unforgiveable. I can fully understand that but, as fans, we have to swallow a lot a rubbish. Having Diafra Sakho still playing for the club after the window closes would be nowhere near as big a load to bear than so many others we’ve had to put up with – counting this season alone if not over the last few.

If the dressing room was being negatively affected by Diafra’s actions then I’d be all for him being offloaded as quickly as possible. But by all accounts there’s no conflict or disharmony arising so I’m not convinced by any argument based that he should be moved on for this reason.

Embed from Getty Images

From a playing perspective, with what Diafra offers us on the pitch, it’s an overwhelming ‘Stay’ from me. From that perspective alone I just can’t see the sense in letting him leave and creating a gaping hole in our squad – which will cost quite a considerable amount to fill. Things happen in people’s lives so I’m not going to be one to judge Diafra on his off field antics down the years and, more recently, his reported actions to engineer a move away from the club. He’s a slightly better striker than Andy Carroll, in terms of goals per game, and contributes a great deal to the team in other areas. Whatever my opinion is, and even if the club want him to stay, player power generally rules when it comes to influencing transfers. Sadly he appears to want away so I suspect he’ll be moving on in January.

Embed from Getty Images

Perhaps I have it wrong and there are many better replacements lined up to take Diafra’s place. On one of the popular Vlogger sites I recently watched a suggestion that we should offload Sakho, Carroll and Ayew in January. Even if we brought through Toni Martinez we’d still be very light for striking options, should that come to pass, and I wonder how much we’d need to pay out to secure replacements. I’m not sure who David Moyes and David Sullivan might have in mind but, in West Ham’s current position, I’m not convinced it will be easy to bring quality replacements in. I really don’t see the sale of three strikers in one pop a sensible tactic so, out of the the three of them, I’d retain Diafra. He’s just better than one in three, whereas the other two are not quite one in four, and certainly offers more to the team than Andrew Ayew IMO. All boiled down it really does depend who the club can bring in. If Carroll and Ayew do move on perhaps Diafra can be made to feel a major part of the manager’s plans for the rest of the season and we’ll see him at his, excellent, best again.

Embed from Getty Images

On to the West Brom game I’m hopeful of a decent performance as I’m bringing both my lads for their first game of the season along with one of my darts team and his lad of a similar age to mine. On paper it’s a game we should win but, as one of the managerial greats of the game once pointed out, it’s a game played on grass.

COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!


The GoatyGav Column

Classic Partnerships - Manu/Marko Potential?

I was so fed up with the performance and result on Tuesday night I’m not going to go in to much detail about it. To say I was gutted is understating it. Declan Rice had a piece published on the official site pregame pointing out that the game is about winning things. Whilst I don’t agree completely, let’s face it – how could I ever do that as a West Ham fan, he was bang on regarding the essence of our hopes and aspirations within realistic boundaries. I’m a football fan, not a financial guru, so the arguments behind ‘Armageddon’ if we’re relegated and Premier League results are more important than cup progression mean nothing to me. Thirty seven years without a major trophy have only served to whet the appetite. So starved of success are we that I’d take relegation and a cup win, nay I’d bite your hand off for it, seven days a week and twice on Sundays. There’s much more I’ve got to say about this but I’ll park it there as it’s another subject altogether.

Embed from Getty Images

Football is a simple game complicated by idiots – Bill Shankly

On a far more positive note I’m really starting to love watching the Lanzini and Arnoutovic play together. Such a shame Manu’s not around this weekend as I believe that the pairing with Marko is really starting to gel. Arnie has been a revelation in the last few games. If I have any kind of criticism of him it would be the amount of chances he seems to need before scoring but he’s creating so much up top for us it’s more than making up for it. Bill Shankley, one of the game’s true geniuses, once said “Football is a simple game complicated by idiots,” which he, later, qualified further by saying “Football is a simple game based on the giving and taking of passes, of controlling the ball and of making yourself available to receive a pass. It is terribly simple.” We all know there’s a great deal more to it than that but, in essence, pass and move has formed the underlying rule adopted by all the great managers down the years. The second goal against Stoke was a superb example of how the great Mr Shankley’s principles can be applied. Good movement. Good passing but also a great understanding between two of our most creative players. Movement by Diafra Sakho for the third goal was clever too – one of the strongest aspects of his game and one we’ll miss if and when he’s sold. The ball to put him through for that goal was a slide-rule pass from Manu but he still had a lot to do and took it beautifully. I’m aware that he had fluffed his lines, somewhat, just beforehand but he showed his goalscoring instincts to wrap up the game. A big thanks from me to the team for delivering a great result – really enjoyed listening to the fans sing ‘Jingle Bells’ at the Brit.

Embed from Getty Images

So what next? Both Marko and Manu have time left on their contracts. Are we witnessing the start of a great partnership at the club? My feeling that this season would be a memorable one, before a ball was kicked, looked hopelessly wide of the mark. Now things are looking better. The Christmas period this season appears to be one of the biggest season defining periods in many a year. How big a miss Manu will be on Saturday remains to be seen. Necastle are not on the best of runs at the moment and, conversely, we’ve taken 7 points from 9 in games against Chelsea, Arsenal and Stoke away. Can we keep the run going?

Another who is coming in to his own is Artur Masuaku. He’s really not a defender, for my money, but he’s causing opposition defenders, especially full backs, all sorts of trouble. Great to hear him with his own song too.

Overall David Moyes has made a good start. I genuinely believe it’s not all down to him. Stuart Pearce has also made a big contribution to how solid we’re starting to look in games. Defensively we’ve improved hugely. Pains me to say it but the team often sat deep this season, with Slaven in charge, and were still leaking goals like a sieve despite the negativity and over cautiousness. Happily confidence appears to be returning. No more rabbits caught in the headlights – moving the ball at a snail’s pace and passing back to the keeper. On the subject of keepers I’d be surprised to see Joe Hart return to playing Premier League games. With Adrian between the sticks we’ve played extremely well at the back so, for me, he should retain his Premier League place this weekend. There’s a special relationship between Adrian, the club and the fans. Joe Hart, whilst being a good keeper and someone who I like, is on loan and, sadly, hasn’t built an affinity with us yet. I know he wants to succeed for West Ham and is highly motivated and committed but it can’t be easy knowing that he may well move on in the Summer. Not the best bit of business bringing him in IMO.

Embed from Getty Images

Like SJ this will be the last article I post before Santa makes his way down the chimney. Happily Mrs Goatygav no longer needs the sling on her arm and Christmas dinner is not under threat of having me incinerate it this year. So I’ll wish you all a Merry Christmas – here’s to another 3 points on the board against Newcastle making those brussel sprouts just that little bit more palatable.

COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!


Copyright © 2020 Iain Dale Limited. Terms and conditions. Cookies.
Website by Russell Brown.