A change of ownership, manager, spiralling debt and a relegation scrap rounded off another eventful season for West Ham. David Gold conceded that former manager, Gianfranco Zola had been to ‘hell and back’ in the past year. Turbulence and change have been emblematic of the club which is craving stability. It will come as some consolation that the importance of youth development has never waned under the management of academy director Tony Carr. His graduates continue to supplement the first team squad. Continual investment in the academy programme was one of board’s key pledges to the fans this summer and there is a growing sense of excitement about the next crop of youngsters. This may be premature as the likes of Freddie Sears and Junior Stanislas have yet to stamp their authority on the first team. But a handful of the club’s under 21-s will be hoping to make their debuts this season.
Woodford born Jordan Spence made his Premier League debut on the final day of last season against Manchester City. Hailed by Carr as ‘one for the future,’ when signing his first full time contract at the club four years ago, he stands at an imposing 6ft 3in. Naturally a centre-back but he has also played at full-back and can be strong and combative in the challenge. However as a cultured young player who was represented England at under-16,17,18 and 19 levels, he prefers to bring the ball under control and pass out from the back. Spence has had loan periods at Leyton Orient and Scunthorpe but was recalled from the latter for the second half of last season.
Another young defender who has captured the imagination is attacking left-back Jordan Brown. He has recently penned a professional contract with the Hammers after featuring heavily for Carr’s academy side for the past two years. The 18-year old is the cousin of Sunderland’s Kieran Richardson and is strong, robust but also has a penchant for getting forward and creating chances. A loan spell may be forthcoming for the youngster, although having already caught the eye of Avram Grant his presence may be required if Herita Ilunga finds himself on the treatment table once more.
Columbian forward Cristian Montano was another starlet to agree his first professional deal with the club this summer. He scored a wonder goal for Carr’s team last year against Norwich, taking the ball from kick off, skipping past six players and slotting the ball into the net. He was the side’s top scorer with 9 goals in 18 appearances last season and featured in Alex Dyer’s reserve team too. He was duly rewarded with the Doris Bell award for the club’s most promising youngster. He is blossoming thanks to his speed, tricky movement and cool finishing. Another forward equally confident of his abilities is the former Arsenal youngster Ahmed Abdulla. The Saudi Arabian player was released by the north Londoners but promptly signed for the Irons after an impressive trial. Abdulla is a deep lying forward who has the enviable skill of picking out a defence splitting pass.
Regretfully the youngster with the best prospects of making the transition to the first team, Anthony Edgar has sustained a serious knee injury, sidelining him to 2011. He made his senior debut against Arsenal in the FA cup third round last season and is the cousin of former Hammer, Jermaine Defoe. He is an attacking midfielder who has featured as a central director and as a winger. His impressive form in pre-season saw him score the winner against Peterborough with a stinging left-footed shot. His injury is an untimely blow for the club who are still without the creative Jack Collison and the experienced Thomas Hitzlsperger.
All these youngsters and more are held in high regard which is one positive for the club’s beleaguered fans. They will undoubtedly be a huge asset to the team but most will require loan spells to broaden their experience. Playing opportunities will be limited further by West Ham’s poor form, being pointless after three PL games. The team narrowly overcame Oxford in the League Cup despite fielding a strong squad. If these youngsters continue to progress their inclusion should not be considered a gamble for too long.
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