The Academy of Football: What happens now?

Like it or not, West Ham United’s famed Academy of Football is in decline. At the time of writing this West Ham’s development squad have just come off the back of an embarrassing 5-0 loss away to Liverpool’s U21’s. Unfortunately that result is far from a one off for Steve Potts’ men; eleven days previous, the youngsters were downed 3-0 to Sunderland’s U21’s. Again, this wasn’t a one off. Results such as losing 4-1 to Newcastle, 4-0 to Liverpool at home and 3-1 to Tottenham leave West Ham rock bottom of the Under-21 Premier League. Rock bottom, trailing by a massive eight points. Some deficit. Quite frankly embarrassing for a club that’s produced greats such as Bobby Moore and Sir Geoff Hurst to name a few.

West Ham United have a terrific academy, there’s no doubt about that. They’ve produced World Cup winners in Bobby Moore, Sir Geoff Hurst and Sir Martin Peters. They’ve produced Premier League winners in Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole. They’ve also played a significant part in the youth development of esteemed international players such as Sol Campbell, John Terry and Kieran Richardson, there’s a massive 159 England caps between those three alone so why, for an academy so richly celebrated, does it look like the Academy of Football is stagnating?
In the current first team there is only two academy graduates playing regularly – Mark Noble and James Tomkins and both have failed to notch up a single England cap. Whether they’ve deserved to be called up or not is a different argument altogether, but it’s a stark contrast to the past of West Ham where internationals were on stage left, right and centre. Now the story is very different indeed. During the January 2015 transfer window, the Hammers decided to cull the development squad releasing no fewer than six players with the news also coming that Kieran Bywater won’t be at the club next season after failing to secure a new contract.
The alumni of West Ham’s famed academy has also shifted. In the 60’s it was Bobby Moore, Sir Geoff Hurst and Sir Martin Peters. 70’s? Trevor Brooking and Frank Lampard Sr. In the eighties, the club produced Alan Devonshire, Alvin Martin, Tony Cottee and Paul Ince. Into the 90’s and revered internationals such as Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole came through the youth ranks and this trend continued into the new millennium with Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe and Glen Johnson all donning the claret and blue of West Ham United in their youth. But what about now? Aside the the obvious names of Mark Noble and James Tomkins, the club has failed to produce anyone of this calibre since, maybe with the exception of Jack Collison. I mean, players such as Junior Stanislas, Freddie Sears, George Moncur, Jordan Spence and Rob Hall have hardly set the world alight, have they? Or even the Championship for that matter.
So what next for West Ham and their academy? Do they continue trotting along, producing one half-decent player every ten years or do they get back into gear and reach the former heights that won them so many plaudits in previous decades?