Youth Is Served a Curveball – written for Blowing Bubbles Fanzine

curve·ball
noun
BASEBALL REFERENCE

a ball that is pitched with a snap of the wrist and a strong downward spin, which causes the ball to drop suddenly and deceptively veer away from home plate.

The sensational goal scored by 20 year old Ravel Morrison, and the two goals scored by Manchester United’s 18 year old  Adnan Januzaj, has directed the spotlight onto youth academies in the EPL.

Even though Morrison came through the Manchester United youth academy, West Ham definitely holds its own, when compared to any other academy.

West Ham United’s youth academy is one of the most famous in England. Established by Ron Greenwood and Ted Fenton, back in the 50’s and 60’s, it produced the famous trio, which helped win England its only World Cup in 1966, namely, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters.

The youth academy philosophy has had a major impact on how West Ham has played the game on the field. The reputation of this club playing “attractive” football has long been recognized, and producing players such as Trevor Brooking, Alan Devonshire, Paul Ince, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole, only reinforced this reputation.

In today’s EPL, it is vital to develop young players. Being able to promote from within allows a club like West Ham to allocate its cash resources wisely, in the hope of staying in the EPL and also competing for top ten finishes, or better. For a young player, coming through the West Ham academy can have a positive effect, possibly stardom with the home team, or at least an opportunity to play professional football. Here are some examples of academy players in the EPL, not playing for West Ham:

Chelsea: Frank Lampard, John Terry
Manchester United: Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand
Tottenham: Jermain Defoe
Liverpool: Glen Johnson

Reality however is sometimes cruel, and for every star, there is tale of broken dreams, and in the worst cases, little future in the game. Recent history provides us with plenty of examples of player’s that were highly regarded, but never quite made it.

An instant crowd favorite was Freddie Sears, who looked like a “keeper”, after his explosive debut. Who can forget him scoring on his debut……….two years later, Sears scored his second goal. Freddie left the club following promotion to the Premier league, in the hope of re-establishing himself in the lower divisions.

Another player with that “scoring potential” was Zavon Hines, who rose through the ranks in the academy. Many likened him to Carlton Cole. As it turned out he was even more like Carlton Cole than Carlton Cole, scoring only 3 goals in three years.
He left the club at the end of the 2011 season. Zavon has toiled in the lower leagues since leaving, and is still not able to score.

Junior Stanislas was a major hit during the Avram Grant days. His opportunity came late in 09/10 season, and he scored 4 goals in 28 games. His pace on the wing was a definite plus, and Junior looked like he would be a first team regular under Grant.
Unfortunately, Grant departed and Gianfranco Zola arrived. During Zola’s two year reign, Junior only played a handful of games and managed a meager 2 goals.
His departure was no real surprise.

In the cases of Sears, Stanislas and Hines, it was their on-field performance that hastened their departure from Upton Park.

In the case of Christian Montano, it was his own self inflated worth that proved his undoing. A highly thought of prospect, Christian enjoyed successful loan spells in the lower leagues, getting the game experience that he needed to develop. Unfortunately, his timetable was very different to that of the club, and so were his wage demands.
Not surprisingly, his rise to glory and international fame was only realized in his alternate universe, and he thus departed in his spaceship.

Another academy product, Bondz N’Gala signed professionally in 2008, having joined the club as a 13 year old. A regular reserve team player, N’Gala was also loaned out, so that he could get the playing experience needed. Unfortunately, he never blossomed as a player, and his only 1st team appearance was as a substitute.
His career at Upton Park ended after the 2010 season, and N’Gala has toiled since in the lower leagues.

 

Having let his cousin Jermaine Defoe escape to Tottenham, West Ham hoped that Anthony Edgar would be as good as Defoe, and stay at Upton park. Ironically, in July 2010 Edgar scored his first goal in a pre-season friendly when he replaced Junior Stanislas. That was the highlight of his tenure at Upton Park, and unfortunately even after leaving, Edgar has not found the consistency needed to play on a regular basis. Maybe the expectations were too high, especially as Edgar is only 5’ 6”.

Coming from the Mervyn Day and Phil Parkes era of West Ham goalies, I watched with interest when the club signed a 16 year old player from the Czech Republic, Marek Stech. He seemed poised to come through the system and be our Number 1, but it never happened. He signed a new 5 year deal in the summer of 2008. Loaned out to various clubs, Stech did feature in some 1st team appearances, as well as being named as substitute in thirteen occasions in the Premier League. His potential was never realized, and with Robert Green playing in front of him, he was released at the end of the 2011/2012 season.

My wait still continues for the next Mervyn Day….Who by the way played more games for Leeds United than he did for West Ham. A fact that is both astonishing and upsetting at the same time.

Clearly the word “potential” is just that. What a player is at 16, can be a long way from what the player becomes as a 20 year old. What is important is that the West Ham academy continue to develop player’s, and provide them with the opportunity to get better, even if this ultimately means, playing elsewhere. There is an actual person behind these decisions, which as fans we sometimes lose sight of. For every magic moment produced by Ravel Morrison, or Adnan Januzaj, there are many more tears shed, when a career ends at 20 years of age.

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About Neil

Trying To Find The Spark Again To Write! View all posts by Neil

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