The debate over whether the “Academy of Football” is still a worthy nickname for West Ham has been rife over the past few years, escalating recently as the promising young graduate Rob Hall was allowed to join Bolton Wanderers on a free transfer. The years since Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters grows longer as we continue to search for the next England great.
Over the last decade, there have been a number of players who have gone on to make an impact on the international stage. Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole are all examples of players brought up in the “West Ham way”, but few of the legends seen over the Hammers’ history have we seen bless the turf at Upton Park recently.
Mark Noble, Jack Collison and James Tomkins are the Academy graduates that are well established in the first team and all have had international outings. Noble was captain of the England under 21s, Tomkins played at the Olympics for GB and Collison is a consistent name of the Wales team sheet. Although they are talented players, their success is overshadowed by the World Cup winners of 1966. We put so much pressure on young players to perform because of the legends that have played at Upton Park and have made it through the ranks
The laws in Spain put heavy emphasis on bringing players through your academy and having a squad made up primarily of home-grown players. It is no coincidence that the recent success Spain has had is in part due to their “home-grown” laws.
The Premier League officials and the FA have discussed many times whether to change the laws in the English game to try to increase the quality of young English players in the Premier League. The dilemma you have is the appeal of the Premier League to overseas players. The League known as the “Best in the World” gains this name from the mixture of world class international players and teams with great histories and huge worldwide fan bases. Adopting a law as they have in Spain would not only take a long time to implement (and even longer to see the benefits) but the number of international players in the Premier League would decrease dramatically, reducing the attraction of the Premier League to overseas fans.
Back to the Hammers and last season saw fans in their masses take to social media sites to voice their anger of the lack of youth players been given a chance in the first team squad. Ravel Morrison spent last season on loan at Birmingham City and despite returning before the end of the Premier League season, was not given a chance in the first team. Fans were livid, some even going as far to say that Sam Allardyce would be the death of our academy…but I’m not so sure.
Morrison has come back from his loan having previously been a talented young player…and his football wasn’t bad either. He now looks as if he may be settled in London and has the opportunity to make a name for himself in the Premier League. His performances in pre-season have been very good and he looks as if he could be the long term replacement for Kevin Nolan. His ability to arrive in the box late and score goals from midfield has led David Gold to say that he could be the next “Trevor Brooking”; high praise for a player yet to make a Premier League debut for the Hammers.
In my view, Allardyce has played to youth card very well since he took charge. Despite Hall moving clubs, the way he has given youth players experience by sending them out on loan has been very successful. He required players with experience in both of the two seasons he has been in charge of to achieve his goals, now he has the chance to experiment a bit more with styles and hopefully with some younger players also.
So are we still the “Academy of Football?” I would say that clubs have started to place more of an emphasis on developing players through their own youth systems. The pressure for success internationally and the rising cost of international players coupled with the new fair play rules have meant that clubs have looked to promote players through youth systems. Although we may be having a lull in players coming through, many of our young players are competing on the international stage and the academy will always continue to produce talented players, whatever league they go on to play in. We just need to keep our fingers crossed that the next Hurst, Moore or Peters is just round the corner.