Filed: Sunday, 17th October 1999
By: Chris Tye
When Harrys' reign at our beloved club is over, he will be remembered for many things. Likeable, approachable, a lion in the transfer market and a lamb on the bench, Europe 1999 - perhaps even a trophy if we're lucky.But his best, his most far reaching work has, however, been with the youths.
I could say they have saved this club, and back that with a pretty fair argument, but it is an exaggeration. However, I can say, that we are in the top half, we have credibility because of the amazing work done with our youths. And that is true - players want to come here, and the products of that youth policy are all signed up for long term contracts guaranteeing either their talents or a very hefty transfer fee, both of which are critical to our long term success. Could the same have happened had the likes of Frank and Rio left as soon as they had made it?? Or if they'd never made it at all. And now we have by far the best youth policy in the country: not only the imperious 1999 all conquering youth team, but even now their successors are being put in place.
The story began when Harry arrived at the club from Bournemouth, to become Bonds' second in command. Harry has confessed that he was shocked by the poor quality of the first team squad, and even more so by the state of the famed 'Academy', and the lack of youth players coming through. The golden legacy bequeathed by Greenwood had been squandered, even though occasioanal successes occurred (Ince, Cottee). With spiralling transfer fees and our own notorious lack of funds, there was only one solution: get the Academy conveyer belt going again. Ably assisted by Peter Storrie, Harry got to work.
The first signs of success came with the 1997 Youth Cup final - a Rio/Frank/Lee Hodges inspired West Ham got to the final only to lose to a Michael Owen/Jamie Carragher inspired Liverpool. The value of a good youth system is handily illustrated by the success of the above players, only Hodges failed to convert his undoubted promise into a full Premiership career. Around this time rumours began to emerge about a truly outstanding talent on West Ham's books, a young lad called Joe Cole who was pulling up trees for the England U15's against such opponents as Brazil and Germany.
It's hard to say where, and to who credit should be directed for the success that has followed. I like to think of it as a West ham thing: it is our role in the great scheme of things to produce players of global impact, for the whole country to enjoy. Others pursue success at any cost by any method: at West Ham we pursue success by developing players from our own ranks, by investing thousands of hours of coaching and scouting, by saying we can produce as good as anyone else can buy. I've read many articles lately about various clubs, and their training/youth facilities: £12m training academies and state of the art this and that, but they just don't get it do they. Tender loving care in the form of coaching, hours of it, and a chance to go all the way, to be valued by their clubs is want the young lads want. Grass, a ball and an opportunity sums it up nicely. You can't call Chadwell Heath state of the art, and Arsenal have just built a £15m training complex, apparently co-designed by Arsene 'I didn't see it' Wenger, but young Leon Britton didn't hesitate when he had a choice of staying at Arsenal or coming to West Ham. Compare that to the efforts of the many (including, famously, Sir Alex) in luring Joe way from us: no chance.
If ever years of hard graft and effort were rewarded, then our youth Cup/League/Play off winning side was it. The sheer thought of it, even now, sends shivers down my spine. My first game in that Cup run was the quarter final replay, a 4-0 win against Arsenal, including the latest French 'wonderkids' lured over by Wenger. Arsenal were highly touted, highly rated and humiliated. And from there it just got better: I saw 4 games in that youth cup run, including both legs of the final, and the scores went 4-0, 3-0, 3-0, 6-0, and that doesn't even begin to express the quality of the football that I was privileged to see.
That Youth Cup final was a landmark in youth football. Every record was obliterated, even the 'Busby babes' or 'Fergie' Fledglings'. Most remarkable of all was the crowd: the kick off was delayed 15 mins as thousands of fans queued to get in, and the match kicked off in front of a packed Upton Park, even though the game was effectively over with our 3-0 lead from the away leg. At the time I wrote a report comparing that youth team to Brazil 1970. Obviously there is no comparison between a World Cup winning side with Pele in it, and a FA Youth Cup winning side, but the comparison stands. It was the exuberance, the class, the winning of a competition with so much ease that thousands came to see a one sided contest, to be a part of it that makes the comparison valid. We entertained, we took football to a higher level and put on a show. To be there, just there, when it happened was magical. To see the complete mastery of 11 young lads from West Ham over all their contemporaries. Memories abound, and I'll never forget that night.
It is now 6 months from that special night. Joe Cole has just played his way into the West ham first team. Carrick, and Newton are bench regulars. The recent England U18 team started with 4 West Ham players (and none from Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Man U, Newcastle), while Newton was in the U21's. Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand, both still young enough to play for the U21's, are in the full squad . And it goes on. The recent graduates from the Lilleshall school of excellence included 8 who were awarded platinum grades. The best of the best. The cream of the crop for that year. Call it naughty, call it justifiable reward for our efforts with young footballers over the last 4 or 5 years, but 2 of them have dropped their own clubs to join us: Jermaine Defoe and Leon Brittan. Add to that Sjolund, a young Finnish footballer who was player of the tournament in a recent international U16 competition: they were all tapping him up, but he knew where to sign didn't he.
Even with a developed Upton Park, we will never be signing world class players, unless, like Di Canio, other factors are in our favour. But, unlike many, we can produce them. And will continue to do so, because we CARE, because at West Ham we value them, because Harry and his staff believe in our ability to do so and put the hard hours in to achieve it. Let's have a look at Vialli or Wenger - great managers, but when they are gone , what will their legacy be?? Harry will leave the next manager of West Ham a bountifull source of class players. I hope he stays on and keeps this part of the business going, and keeps working with the kids and producing the talent that he can. The current talk is of the Leeds kids, and they are great, but here at West Ham we have an even better crop coming through, although as yet we don't know who exactly it will be. Some may come from nowhere, others may look a million dollars but never progress. This is my own view of some of our young lads:
Bywater - superb goalkeeper signed expensively from Rochdale. The fee goes up to a couple of million if Stephen goes on to win England caps etc. I like Stephen's presence: he commands his area, bollocks his defenders and looks Schmichealesque.
Cole - nuff said really. An expectant country awaits the Messiah. Obscene expectation, and Redknapp has done superbly to down play the hype by his characteristic slow introduction of Joe into the first 11. Joe makes it the 'beautiful game'. Against Arsenal in the Youth cup team he flicked the ball over his head (and his marker's) and ran 40 yards down the touchline without the ball ever touching the ground. 3,000 people just stared, stunned, by the genius of it.
Iriekpen -central defender (although played at right back for England). Big, strong, Izzy reminds me of Sol Campbell. Izzy is young - he is a year younger than Cole and most of his youth team and England U18 colleagues. He can play in this year's Youth Cup (alongside Cole, Newton), and also NEXT years!!. Nearly made his debut against Man.Utd aged 16. Interesting thought that we can defend the Cup with the likes of Cole, Newton, Iriekpen still eligible. They'll all be on a greater stage by then, otherwise they might as well give us the Cup now.
Carrick - elegant midfielder. Strong, square shouldered and with a fine eye for a pass, young Carrick reminds me of a young Trevor Brooking. Michael was signed from the Wallsend Boys Club in the North East, from which Paul Gascoigne was found, and this demonstrates how hard our scouting staff work. Michael shares the club house with the Australian lads, and came home from his summer holiday 2 weeks early because he loves being down here with his fellow youth team mates so much.
Ferrante - Australian holding midfielder, unsung due to the more flamboyant skills of Cole and Carrick.
Newton - brilliant right wing back. Potentially our very own Cafu or Thuram. In the 4 youth games I saw, he was better than Cole and was man of the match in the final. Flaring pace, good crossing ability and some spectacular goals.
Garcia - Australian forward, hard working and good touch and pace. Scored in every round of the youth cup.
Other members of the team included Shaun Byrne, Forbes, Angus, Brayley. Any of these could also make it, even though I've concentrated on the more famous members of the team.
This is our future, and it's very very bright.
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.
comments powered by Disqus