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The return of the Academy

Filed: Friday, 28th September 2012
By: Jack Bowers

Being a young West Ham United supporter Iíve never really had much to celebrate, trophy-wise. The only trophies weíve won in my lifetime are the Intertoto Cup and two play-off Final trophies. To count them as major honours is seriously clutching at straws.

But I think part of the education of being a West Ham fan is to look at other factors that can make you proud.

Iíve done this from a young age. I love the stadium, the humour and loyalty of the fans, the history and traditions and our anthem 'Bubbles', but the thing Iím most proud of is our Academy.

The other week, when England played Ukraine in the World Cup qualifier, it dawned on me that our famed Academy, widely-known as ĎTHE Academy of footballí really hasnít produced a top-drawer, world-class player for over a decade.

In the past, if you look at England teams and count how many originate from the West Ham Academy, and you will get a feeling of pride. From the 1950s to the 1990s West Ham regularly produced England internationals.

But the sad truth is that our Academy hasnít produced a new senior England player for almost twelve years, unless you count Jermain Defoe who we acquired from Charlton.

Since our recent golden generation of Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole and Michael Carrick weíve failed to produce a world-class player.

Mark Noble and James Tomkins are our two highest profile graduates in the last decade and while there is still hope of them getting called up to the senior level, it is slightly disappointing weíve not produced more big name players.

There is no doubt that our Academy, the thing the majority of fans, myself included love about the club the most, has gone through somewhat of a blip.

When gauging fans' views before writing this article, it was bought to my attention that a successful Academy isnít just about the amount of full England internationals, itís about the number of youngster that get given an opportunity to progress in the West Ham first team. And over the last four to five years, thereís not been that many given a chance.

Yet, Iím adamant that this is not Tony Carrís fault, or anyone else involved with the youth set-up.

Managers and our transfer policy havenít helped with the production of youngsters. Gianfranco Zola was a manager that tried to give youngsters a chance but it seemed at the wrong time. He threw Junior Stanislas and Zavon Hines into a team that was battling relegation which surely didnít help their development?

Even though Zola gave some Academy kids a chance he made some stupid signings in the transfer windows, just like Avram Grant. On their watches we brought in Pablo Barrera, Diego Tristan, Benni McCarthy, Freddie Piquionne, Savio Nsereko and many more foreign players who failed to make an impact at Upton Park. Could a young academy player not have taken their place?

And of course last season in the Championship it was hard to play youth. Big Sam was only allowed five substitutes in his match day squad, there was unbelievable pressure on getting promoted and playing youngsters would have been too much of a gamble.

But now we have secured promotion, it seems that Big Sam could be the man to bring Tony Carrís Academy back to the fore. Carr is producing the talent, but up until now theyíre not been given a chance, and it seems like Allardyce could be the man to give them a chance.

In the 4-1 defeat to Wigan in the Capital One Cup Big Samís squad contained nine Academy players. Even though the result was disappointing it was refreshing to see that many home grown in the match day squad.

And itís things like this that make me think, despite not being at our most golden, that our academy is still the best in English football.

The more I think about an Academy the more I realise that it isnít actually the amount of full international players produced that make an Academy a successful one.

People mention Manchester United, as they have contributed the most players to England, but for a club of that magnitude itís easy. Theyíre in four competitions every season, have a huge budget and put a lot of money into their Academy; there is no excuse for them not to produce players.

But for West Ham, who havenít won a major trophy since 1980, to consistently produce young players isnít easy. And even to be able to produce players, such as Freddie Sears who go onto play in the lower leagues, is still an achievement.

Despite having my doubts about our Academy recently, something for which I get a lot of stick from some Hammers, I feel good about the current crop of youngsters.

As with all young players it is too early to tell how good they could be but Danny Potts, Robert Hall, Matthias Fanimo, Dylan Tombides, George Moncur and Blair Turgott all look like they could be very good players. Theyíve all represented their countries at youth level and everyone associated with the club speaks highly of them.

So despite a dip in top-drawer graduates of late, the future still seems very bright for West Hamís academy.

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.

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