After watching Gonzo’s daily video I felt the pressure to write another blog. But what about? The goalkeeping situation is now resolved assuming Darren Randolph is actually fit and available, so hopefully we wont need to discuss that any further this season. If indeed Randolph is injury free and doesn’t breakdown, then I think we’ve probably made the right decision bringing him in. At 32, he obviously is now happy to accept a backup role at the club and we know him to be of sufficient quality for this level. His age is important. Had we brought in somebody like Jack Butland, there would be absolutely no pathway for Nathan Trott to take over as first team keeper, he surely would have had to leave in order to find first team opportunities. Like so many fellow hammers, I am always living in hope that another academy graduate will steak his place in the first team. Two seasons ago, we saw Declan Rice step on to the big stage and despite a few early setbacks, he is now seen as one of the top young CDM’s in the country, unless you ask Manchester United fans who apparently don’t see the attraction.

Last season, Grady Diangana was given his chance in the first team after initially impressing in the 8-0 League Cup win over Macclesfield. His league debut came against the Red Devils no less and he would go on to play 17 times in the Premier League for Manuel Pellegrini’s side. Diangana’s early promise seemed to fade as the season went on and a spell in the Championship this season appears to have done him the world of good. He’s been one of West Brom’s star performers under the tutelage of former hammer Slaven Bilic, playing 20 times, scoring 5 goals and assisting 6 more. I expect a much better player to return to the club in the summer.

In recent days, Nathan Holland and Connor Coventry have left the club for loan moves that will hopefully aid their development, and Dan Kemp is another young player desperate to go and show what he can do in men’s football. Unfortunately however, Joe Powell who assisted 2 goals in the 8-0 thrashing of Macclesfield last season has moved on permanently. He signed for League One side Burton Albion for an undisclosed fee which has given me something to write about. Only a few paragraphs in and I start to get to the point. I’m new to this blogging lark. With no writing background, you’ll have to forgive me for the lack of structure in my posts.

Joe Powell’s departure is really disappointing. Looking at the lad, he looks ready made for the Premier League. Unlike many youth players, he’s not too small, he looks big and strong, so I guess it can only be a lack of ability that has caused him to fall short. Despite this, every season I find myself questioning why some of our youth players aren’t getting opportunities in the first team, at least from the bench. I am always frustrated to see a player leave the club without getting a chance, especially when we’ve been lead to believe they were on the cusp of breaking through. Joe doesn’t seem to have failed to make the grade in football, released in to the wilderness to find his own path. A professional club who were recently a Championship side have paid money to sign him, however much that may be. I always wonder with situations like these, what could players like Joe have been had they just been given a go?

And this is why the title of the post is about understanding academy football because I reckon I just don’t! I really don’t comprehend the difference in class between academy level and Premier League football. Of course, I get that it’s a step up, but maybe I don’t fully appreciate the gulf in quality. Marcus Browne left us in the summer for a small fee to go to Middlesbrough. It hasn’t worked out for him so far and he has just been loaned back to Oxford to link up with our very own Nathan Holland. Many of us felt as though Browne could have done a job for us in some capacity this season and were disappointed to see him leave the club permanently, particularly for such a small fee. Perhaps it’s time for us to admit that we don’t know as much as the staff watching them play week in week out. Nevertheless, we call ourselves the ‘Academy of Football’ and I would like that to mean something, to be more than just a sound bite. I want to see us actively promoting our young players every season and giving them enough time to sink or swim. The very fact we as a club have to worry so often about sinking is a large part of why we can never seem to take a chance on a young player, but still, every season without fail, I find myself asking the question, would an academy player really do that much worse than one of our many overpaid fringe players?

Now, I’m not suggesting we throw these kids in from the start every game, but last season as I watched players like Pedro Obiang drift through games hardly making an impact, I asked myself, would Josh Cullen really do much worse? Considering Obiang would often only come on for 20 minutes here and there, could Josh Cullen’s presence instead really change the outcome so severely? Fast forward a few months and I was wondering, can Conor Coventry really be any worse than Carlos Sanchez? The answer must seemingly be yes, because otherwise, what is the logic of paying an overpaid journeyman to run around rather than blooding a hungry passionate youngster who could turn out to be the future of the club? Wouldn’t the naivety and physical disadvantages be compensated by the hunger and desire that an academy prospect would surely bring?

I remember clearly when Marcus Rashford made his headline making debut in the Europa League for Manchester United, how he was only picked that night because Louis van Gaal didn’t have any other options, indeed when we signed Ashley Fletcher soon afterwards, we were told that he was ahead of Rashford in the youth setup and only didn’t get his chance because he was out on loan. Perhaps that was another one of the boards famous misleading truths. Aaron Wan Bissaka wasn’t supposedly rated at Palace, but an injury to Joel Ward forced Roy Hodgson to play the youngster and he went on to become one of the hottest prospects in the country, joining Manchester United the following season for 50m. Our own Declan Rice was one of the last players in his age group promoted to the academy a couple of seasons ago and dare I even mention Harry Kane, who looked average at best during his loan spells at Norwich and Millwall.

Sometimes I wonder whether certain players play to the level they’re at, and it’s only when you throw them in at the deep end and ask them to step up that you find out what they’re made of. We’ve seen many times over the years, supposed Premier League standard players who after relegation, don’t light up the Championship as expected. They need the step up in class to bring out the best in them and I wonder if some of our former academy prospects could have been so much more, had we just had the courage to give them a chance to prove their worth before giving up on them.


By Gonzo

West Ham fan for as long as I can remember. I was flukey enough to watch The Irons beat Bury 10-0 in my first ever game . . . True to form, West Ham then went out and signed their central defender 😬

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