The GoatyGav Column

Declan Rice looks like the only player to be breaking through from the Academy at present. Apart from Declan the most recent player to get close to a regular first team squad place was Reece Oxford. Before those two James Tomkins and our modern day Mr West Ham, Mark Noble, were the newest players to emerge from the youth ranks.

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It’s hardly a prolific development regime we’ve had in recent years, which saddens me, but, perhaps, even more disappointing is the similarity between all of those players. They are all combative defenders and midfielders. You need to go back quite some time to find a forward who’s been promoted from the youth ranks.

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Many youth team players have been attack minded and had flair. When he was coming through the ranks Blair Turgott was an exciting one to watch. A player with great ball manipulation who would run at defenders, taking them on and beating them with his skill. There were many other examples who never made it to the top level at the club. One such was Junior Stanislas. Junior became a terrace hero with his two goals in the 3-1 win against Milwall in the League Cup in 2009. Introduced by Gianfranco Zola, and playing 9 times in 2008-09 then appearing 28 times in the 2009-10 season, he was not fancied by Avram Grant and played on only 5 occasions under the Israeli manager. Sam Allardyce played him twice during a period of time when he was labelled ‘not good enough for the Premier League’. Junior has disproved his detractors by becoming a key player for Bournemouth since their promotion to the Prem and widely regarded as ‘one that got away’ from West Ham. Both players made youth international teams with England – Blair Turgott from U16 through U19 levels while Stanislas got a few at U20 & U21’s.

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Back to the present youth/development squad. Tuesday night’s Checkatrade Trophy exit against Luton Town was a shame. The lack of stronger and more mature players in the squad, due to injuries as well as Rice’s first team inclusion on the weekend, meant it was always going to be a struggle against the high flying Division 2 side. In a recent piece I wrote about the Ex Academy players now plying their trade at Luton I outlined five at the club. It must have been pleasing for them to face their old academy team in the competition – they certainly look like they relished it
“click here”:https://www.whufc.com/fixtures/first-team/fixtures-and-results/season-20172018/luton-town-vs-west-ham-united to view the highlights of the match.

So what’s the reason why ‘The Academy’ is not bringing through attacking players? Is it that the expertise is no longer present? Is it that youth attackers get to a certain level at West Ham but can go no further? Or could it be that West Ham have not had managers who have been prepared to blood attacking talent? I’ve heard many suggest that playing these players is ‘too much of a risk’ but I really don’t buy in to that at all. If anything then inexperienced defenders represent far more of a risk than attackers. You could argue that Jack Collison was an exception to this ‘defensive player only’ theory about the Academy, and that it was injury that curtailed his career with the club, but it’s true to say that he was sold before he established himself as a first team regular. Then again maybe his serious injury did put paid to his time in the squad.

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I mean no dis-service to Declan Rice’s fantastic achievements so far. In terms of skill it’s obvious the lad as a genuine ‘footballing brain’. He uses the ball well in possession too but an attacker he’s not.

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As for the future I’m hopeful. Tony Martinez looks like he has all the attributes to become a superb striker. Ex Everton youth team player Nathan Holland also looks an incredible prospect. I’ve no doubt that Luton Town benefited from his absence Tuesday night and I’m sure we all wish Nathan a speedy recovery from his recent surgery. Portuguese midfielder Domingos Quina has shown great promise – earning 2 first team appearances in the League Cup this season. And Haksabanovic has been brought in with first team football in mind.

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Physicality plays a huge role in modern football. Without it players stand little chance of making it at the top level. For some it’s the main feature of their game, getting by with lesser touch and technique, but for others it’s something to work on. Probably the greatest current example of a player who needs to ‘bulk up’ to enable greater physicality is Martin Samuelson. The lad’s skill is frightening, and his athleticism is top calibre, but he really needs to prove he can excel and some gym time definitely won’t jeopardise his chances.

When Joe Cole was coming through he quickly realised that he needed to get in the gym and gain bulk and strength. So to the gym he went and soon he became a player that was extremely difficult to shake off the ball. A similar thing happened to Lionel Messi who, in my opinion, has been the World’s best player for a number of years – arguably the best ever. Without that strength training he wouldn’t have been the same player.

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So have the players that have come through done so because of their ability to look after themselves against more physical ‘grown’ men and have those who haven’t made the grade lacked the physicality to compete? One thing’s for certain – the facts don’t lie. West Ham’s Academy produces more defenders than it does attackers.

Quick word about the City game. I commented at the time that I was proud of our beleaguered Hammers but that was the extent of it. I was looking no further ahead or reflecting no further back than the 90 odd minutes of the match. They go again against Chelsea and need to show the same hunger, desire, work-rate and organisation as they did last Sunday. As for young Declan – I hope he has another blinder and has learned and grown from the couple of minute errors made. He’s a smart lad so I would wager he has.

COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!

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