International break doldrums, Hammer-free England squads and an Academy firing blanks.
Another international break to endure this weekend as national teams around the world compete for a place in the World Cup finals in Russia in the summer of 2018 even though the format of qualification is designed to ensure that the same teams (plus a few wild cards) qualify every time. Even if something goes wrong it would be no surprise to hear of Russian hackers interfering with results to ensure the correct outcome.
The script for England will be the same; runaway winners of a very weak group, heightened media expectation and ultimate quarter final elimination amid scenes of running street battles in the ‘prospekts’ of St Petersberg.
Personal interest in the national team tends to be proportional to the number of West Ham players in the team and thus the reading is currently close to tepid. At present Antonio, Carroll and Cresswell are at the periphery of selection but the odds are not be high on any of these being in the squad and/ or still at West Ham come the 2018 Finals. It seems to be all Tottenham and Southampton players at the moment.
We like to imagine a happier time where there was a production line from the famous Academy of Football into the national team. Even if that were occasionally true the machinery requires urgent repair as the Academy goes through one of its cyclical periods of defective goods.
Since the beginning of the 2006/07 season the following academy graduates have made a first team appearance (excluding Europa League) for the Hammers:
Jack Collison, Freddie Sears, James Tomkins, Zavon Hines, Junior Stanislas, Josh Payne, Anthony Edgar, Jordan Spence, Callum McNaughton, Dan Potts, Robert Hall. Matthias Fanimo, Dylan Tombides, Elliot Lee, Leo Chambers, Pelly Rudock, Sebastian Lletget, George Moncur, Callum Driver, Blair Turgott, Reece Burke, Reece Oxford
Only James Tomkins from that list went on to become an established Hammer, although Jack Collison’s career was unfortunately cut short by injury and the tragic Dylan Tombides was never allowed to fulfil his potential. Of the others, Junior Stanislas built a useful career at Bournemouth but the remainder had to settle for playing in and around the lower leagues. None of them were ‘ones that got away’. Who can forget that 5 of the last 6 academy graduates made their debut in the disastrous FA Cup defeat at Nottingham Forest?
One of the criticisms levelled at Slaven Bilic (and Fat Sam before him) is the reluctance to blood youth players. The evidence suggests that, despite any other shortcomings, this particular point might be unfair criticism.
There was a feeling of optimism back in August, not only that we would enjoy a good campaign on the back of a seventh place finish but that there were, at last, a crop of new youngsters coming through the system. A number of these are now (or have been) out on loan to various lower league teams but how have they fared:
Reece Burke (Wigan), Reece Oxford (Reading), Marcus Browne (Wigan), Martin Samuelsen (Peterboro), George Dobson (Walsall), Stephen Hendrie (Blackburn), Tony Martinez (Oxford), Alex Pike (Cheltenham), Josh Pask (Gillingham), Doniel Henry (FC Horsens), Kyle Knoyle (Wigan), Jaanai Gordon (Newport)
Looking at their records, only Josh Cullen has been a regular starter (in what is his second season at League One Bradford City) although Reece Burke had been earning good reviews at Wigan before picking up an injury that saw him return to West Ham for treatment. Josh Pask and Doneil Henry also suffered injuries while on loan.
Highly rated Reece Oxford has yet to make a start at Reading and despite a strong goal-scoring introduction Tony Martinez is no longer a certain starter at Oxford United. The rest have been peripheral figures at their adopted clubs which reflects either on their own abilities or the wisdom of the loan system.
A highly rated player who has not been packed off on loan is Domingos Quina and he has occasionally found himself on the first team bench without ever being called upon to get warmed up. Maybe we will get a look at him before the season is out.
Putting on my Utopian claret and blue spectacles I have high hopes that Quina and both the Reeces can make the step up to the first team at some stage; I also liked the look of Marcus Browne on his brief Europa League appearance. Apart from those though I am unconvinced although will admit that the instinct is coloured by the impact players are having on loan rather than from the position of watching them play regularly. When the likes of Ferdinand, Lampard, Carrick and Defoe went out on loan as young players they all made their mark.
Everyone loves an academy graduate and we are long overdue the pleasure of seeing home-grown talent rise up to the challenge of first team football. The Academy needs to reclaim its reputation.