The S J Chandos Column
No one can fail to have been impressed with the performances of the young England sides, in the recent friendlies, against Germany and Brazil. England coach Gareth Southgate has shown a clear determination to give young players a run out in these games and it has seemingly paid off. This has occurred against the background of the recent U-20s and U-17s England World Cup victories and a renewed confidence about the quality of young English footballers in the pipe line. Yet, the fact remains that the majority of of those youngsters are very likely to be frozen out of the first team picture at their parent clubs and loaned out. This shows that regardless of potential or actual capability most PL clubs are currently still prioritising expensive foreign imports over home grown talent. However, many people in the English game are increasingly asking why this should continue to be the case? The view gaining currency that PL clubs must increase the first team opportunities for this emerging domestic talent for the long term good of the English game.
West Ham are a club renowned for their Academy and the production of top class talent. Unfortunately, however, in recent years Hammers managers have shown a distinct reluctance to give youngsters adequate first team opportunities. Sam Allardyce never seemed to have any faith in our Academy and Slaven Bilic also showed a surprising reluctance to hand youth their chance. Yes, Bilic blooded Reece Oxford, as a 16 year old, against Arsenal, but he subsequently failed to show sufficient commitment to developing his talent at first team level. Admittedly he called up Declan Rice this season, but also quickly dropped him after the Irish youngster made a mistake against Newcastle United. While, Reece Burke performed admirably whenever called to first team duty, but regardless has been continually loaned out to gain further experience; and Bilic also showed a real caution in calling up prolific U-23s striker, Toni Martinez, to the first team squad, even when injury and suspension decimated our available striker options.
New Hammers manager, David Moyes, has commented on the situation of young English talent failing to break through at PL level. He has expressed his admiration for the performance of the England U-17s, in winning the WC at their age range, and suggested that perhaps PL squads are too ‘cluttered’ and this is stopping youngsters making the break through. Moyes quickly followed this up by calling up a number of the U-23s to train with the first team squad and hinted heavily that they will get their opportunities under his managerial regime. Obviously, Declan Rice is reasonably well established now in the senior squad and others, such as Martinez, Samuelson and Holland, are pushing hard for inclusion. In addition, it is more than possible (considering his lack of game time in Germany) that Moyes could call Reece Oxford back from his loan deal in January and re-integrate the youngster back in to the senior squad.
Naturally, while we struggle, in and around the relegation zone, the emphasis will be upon experienced players lifting us clear of trouble. However, there is little doubt that, in the right circumstances, Moyes will give youngsters their big break. And that is the way that it should be at a club with West Ham’s long standing reputation for youth development. The hope is that we can pull away from trouble quickly and afford ourselves the opportunity to fully test the abilities of the likes of Martinez at first team level. Indeed, the opportunity for the Spanish goal poacher could even come, sooner rather than later, if Hernandez fails to recover from injury in time for the Watford match. With Carroll likely to start, then Martinez could possibly claim at least a place on the bench for this Sunday’s match.
Arguably, PL squads should benefit from having good quality youngsters performing well and pushing for first team places. It keeps the senior players on their toes and gives them the extra motivation to maintain their own standards. One of the problems at West Ham has been that regardless of how well a youngster is doing in the U-23s, or indeed in training, there was little chance that he would be promoted. The Academy needs to continue producing players that are going to lay claim to a first team place and add to the competitive mix of the squad.
Hopefully, Moyes understands that and will deliver on his promising early statements/actions relating to our U-23s. I certainly think that it will go a long way to getting Hammers fans to warm to Moyes if he is seen to be serious about developing the Academy and promoting players to first team duty.