Filed: Saturday, 22nd September 2012
By: Tom Kilbey
Historically, our academy graduates have formed the backbone of our squads. Moore, Hurst, Peters, Lampard Sr, Brooking, Ince, Lampard Jr and Ferdinand are just a handful of names that were products of our famous youth system.
In recent years however, we haven't been able to produce the calibre of players that we are perhaps used to seeing. Despite this, we currently have three graduates who have established themselves as key players for the squad, and all three of them face a different prediciment. Here, we will look at each of the players, and assess their options for the future.
As an East Londoner himself, it's obvious that Mark Noble loves the club. He has played a part in some of West Ham's most important games in the past few years, and many of the iconic moments of those games involve him in some way.
Many West Ham fans will remember the fateful match at Upton Park against Spurs where Mark scored a fantastic first goal for the club, before being reduced to tears at the final whistle as Tottenham scored two late goals, eventually winning the game 4-3. He has constantly proved himself as a man for the big occassions, none less from the penalty spot, where he has scored many crucial goals with the conviction of a veteran.
Besides this, his all round play has to be commended. His work rate is admirable, and his new role in a defensive midfield position has allowed him to take over the role that had once been Scott Parker's. This being said, it's an unjust criticism to shrug him off as a player who just 'works hard'. He can tackle and he can pass and rarely loses the ball.
Need convincing? Mark Noble has already made 22 tackles this season - the most in the Premier League. Against Fulham, he made 81 passes with 98% completion, far more than the average passes made by, say, Joe Allen. He has struck an effective partnership with Mo Diame in a short period, and has been one of the stand out players in a pleasing start to the season.
Despite this, Mark is currently locked in contract negotiations with the new club. After refusing a new deal earlier this month, little progress had been made. Considering Noble is in the final year of his contract, this can not go unnoticed. Despite not being a top earner at the club, West Ham are apparently unwilling to meet his agent's wage demands - although thankfully there now appears to be light at the end of the tunnel.
It's sometimes very easy to criticise a player for being too greedy, but when Mark sees the like of Kevin Nolan earning twice as much as he is, surely he is within his rights to ask for a similar contract. I think it would be lunacy not to offer Mark a new deal and his dedication and input to the club is surely worthy of a new, lucrative long term contract.
Signed to the West Ham academy aged 16, Collison quickly moved through the youth and reserve teams, and just three years later, made his league debut. After scoring on his home debut, and making some excellent performances under Gianfranco Zola, his efforts were rewarded by receiving the award of Young Player of the Year.
Fans will remember the iconic images of Jack leaving the field in tears in the infamous League Cup tie against Milwall, having agreed to play just days after his father had died in a motorcycling accident, demonstrating his dedication to the club and the strength of his character. There was real optimism surrounding the youngster until his progress was cruelly halted by a serious knee injury which kept him out for over a year.
By the time Collison returned to the squad, West Ham were plying their trade in the Championship. Its safe to say that for the majority of the season, he looked a different player from the one that looked so comfortable in the Premier League. This was not helped by the fact that he was forced to spend much of the season in a wide area. After returning to a more central position at the end of the season, he enjoyed more success, scoring a fantastic goal in the penultimate game of the season against Leicester, before grabbing a brace in the play-off first leg against Cardiff.
Despite this promising end to the season, he has not featured this season for the first team due to injury. Despite stating he is nearing a comeback - and with Sam Allardyce expressing concerns that Jack's knee may never fully recover, it is really difficult to see how he will fit into our first team. With a plethora of central midfielders, and with Benayoun now challenging Nolan to Jack's best position, it may take him some time to force his way back into contention.
Many people who have worked with the Wales international, including Craig Bellamy, Tony Carr and Gianfranco Zola, have praised him for his dilligent attitude in training, and if he can keep fit, I think he still has a career at West Ham. I just hope that he is utilised in a central role, as he does not have the attributes to be a Premier League winger.
At age 23, James Tomkins has been involved with the West Ham academy for 16 years. Unlike his two aforementioned team mates, he only really established himself as a reliable first team regular last season. Early on in his career, he was guilty of some costly errors, resulting in him playing understudy to the likes of James Collins and Danny Gabbidon. He showed signs of development in the fateful 2010/11 season, but the year he spent in the Championship allowed him to build confidence and show his true class.
After an excellent first half of the season, he signed a new long term deal stating that loyalty to the club was far more important to him than money. He also showed his goal-scoring threat from set-pieces too. Allardyce utilised his big man as a back-post threat who would head the ball back across goal and as a result, Tomkins accumulated four goals and two assists. His performances were recognised by his inclusion in the Championship Team of the Year, and was also voted Runner up to Mark Noble as Hammer of the Year.
However, after missing out on the opening game against Aston Villa, a match which saw James Collins and Winston Reid strike a fantastic partnership, his chances have been restricted to appearances from the bench. On top of this, Allardyce seems keen to utilise him as a defensive midfielder, a decision which I find with our abundance of midfielders.
I am sure his future lies as a Centre Back, and given our lack of depth in this area, he will get his chance to re-establish himself. However with Winston Reid who has risen to something of a fan's favourite, and the resigning of James Collins, for now, JT will have to wait patiently for his chance to forge his way back into the first team. My only concern is that he must be frustrated with his place on the bench, and I just hope that limited first team opportunities do not change his loyalties and love for the club.
All three of our academy graduates are facing a crossroad in their professional career. I hope the management do the right thing and allow them to flourish and succeed in a West Ham shirt during an exciting period for the club. They have the potential to be top players, and to be able to include academy players in these important next few years will send the message that we still have a world class youth system capable of producing top players. If we don't make this effort, we will be turning our backs on a great tradition that our club was forged from the vision of the likes of Ted Fenton and Ron Greenwood over fifty years ago.
Tom Kilbey may also be found on Twitter at twitter.com/tom29whu.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
10:20AM 22nd Sep 2012
''When I saw that Noble had a 98% pass rate success against Fulham, thoughts were of my impressions during the game and it was of him passing the ball backwards or sideways 99% of the time. This does not help the team most of the time. Ironically against Norwich he passed the ball forwards more than I can remember him doing for some time, coincidence? I wonder what his stats were for this game? And please don't compare him to a player like Joe Allen who is always looking to create and only passes backwards when nothing else is on.
This is not to knock Noble, who always gives his best, just to put STATS in there place as an aid to put alongside all the other interpretations available. ''
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