Still the Academy of Football?

West Ham has been deemed as the Academy of Football in past times when we produced brilliant youth players such as Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Jermaine Defoe, Glen Johnson, Rio and Anton Ferdinand, Joe Cole plus more. Most of these players have gone onto play for world-class teams (of course including West Ham). Just imagine if we still had these players now. But in recent years, the youth system hasn't produced that class of players.

First of all, let's look at the positives of the youth system. Tony Carr (MBE) has been at the forefront of our Academy since 1973 and I'd like to say what a marvellous job he's done spotting/finding probably the best youth players; he is up there with the best in the world as youth directors go. He was rightly awarded a testimonial in 2010 where many of his ex-youth players showed up for a game which also included Paolo Di Canio and then West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola ( hich I was lucky enough to watch).

West Ham have recently been granted Elite Player Performance Plan Category 1 which will definitely help improve our Academy.

Now onto the players we have produced who are regular first teamers at the club at present. The main two who spring to mind are Mark Noble and James Tomkins; both homegrown boys who have been with West Ham pretty much all of their careers. They always give their all for the team and are 100 per cent committed in everything they do; they bleed claret and blue. This can also be said of Watford-born Jack Collison, who is similar to Tomkins and Noble in having joined the Academy when he was also very young (16) albeit via Cambridge United.

All three are regulars in the first team squad now (injury permitting) and enjoyed a brilliant season in the Championship. Although Jack only came back for the last few games, he played a crucial part in our play-off semi final victory against Cardiff. Noble and Tomkins enjoyed one of their best seasons at the club whilst Noble has started off superbly in the 2012/13 campaign, especially against Fulham.

In my opinion that was one of his best ever performances for West Ham; he was simply unplayable. Tomkins has had to be happy with a place on the bench because of how well Winston Reid and James Collins have played, but when he has featured he's looked solid. When he came on against Fulham he defended very well against a difficult opponent in Dimitar Berbatov.

All three have been great players for us and I hope they stay at West Ham for the whole of their careers. Tomkins and Noble have represented England at Under 21 level and Collison is a Welsh international. The Board now need to give Noble a new long term contract as we really do not want to see him go!

Apart from those three players however there haven't really been any youth players who have succeeded in the first team for a prolonged period. There was a spell when the likes of Junior Stanislas and Zavon Hines enjoyed a run in for the first team under Zola but when Sam Allardyce came in were quickly sold to Burnley.

For me, that was the right decision as they didn't really shine. Hines scored one goal at Turf Moor and now is at Bradford City whilst Stanislas was just too lightweight and never really performed on the wing, his skills seemed to get him nowhere. I believe Allardyce made the right choice selling those two players.

The summer transfer window saw us release both Frank Nouble (bought from Chelsea) and Cristian Montano, both of whom I was fairly disappointed in seeing leave. I watched Nouble in a few development/reserve games and he was the stand-out player. He failed to many many first team appearances but when he got his one and only start in the Championship he grabbed a goal against Derby (away).

Meanwhile Montano had a few loan spells in which he impressed and he looked to be a good player, another with a bit of flair and pace down the wing. However I've got to trust Allardyce's judgement, and wish both of those players all the best in their careers.

Lastly, we sold Freddie Sears to Colchester. Sears is a West Ham fan through and through but he never really did cut it after scoring the winner against Blackburn on his debut back in 2008. Perhaps the pressure got to him but he never really lived up to the expectation. I never rated him; maybe it was because he was often played out wide instead of in his favoured central striking position. But whenever he ran at a player he never seemed to have a chance; his skill or pace just never seemed to work. I also wish Sears all the best in his career at Colchester and any future clubs.

Players need game time and most of these players didn't get it at West Ham. Maybe this is a factor why they were sold/released? I believe Stanislas said outright that the fact he didn't get any game time was the reason he moved, or is it just the fact the youth we're producing isn't good enough?

At the moment we seem to have some bright young players coming through including the likes of Jordan Spence, Danny Potts and Rob Hall - all three of whom have played for the first team. From what I've seen, they all look to be definite stars for us in the future!

But onto that burning question: are we still THE Academy of Football? I'd probably have to say no; the talent we've produced recently hasn't been up there with the talents we've produced in the past not equal to the likes of Southampton who've produced Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain etc. But there's no doubt we're still producing half decent players - even if they're not quite the same quality as those we have in the past.

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