West Ham’s famed ‘Academy of Football’ has developed some of the best English footballers to grace a football pitch. The likes of Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Glen Johnson and Jermain Defoe have all massively progressed in the Premier League, mainly thanks to former academy director Tony Carr MBE. Currently, the string of youngsters being fastracked into the first team set up has worryingly stopped but hopefully that will be for just a brief time. Mark Noble and James Tomkins are the current first team players that are playing on a regular basis, and have come through the youth ranks at Upton Park.
Many players from the Hammers set up that have been tipped to have a bright future ahead of them have failed to deliver the goods. Defender Jordan Spence and striker Freddie Sears are prime examples. Now plying their trade at League One sides MK Dons and Colchester United respectively, it’s safe to say that both Spence and Sears’ footballing careers have taken a stumbling block. Things need to change, considering that Premier League clubs are failing to develop homegrown talent, which is why the English national side is suffering. West Ham’s Academy director and Head of Coaching and Player development Terry Westley is looking to change that, and bring through another batch of youngsters that are on the same level as Ferdinand and Cole.
One player that has caught the eye is 15-year-old centre back Reece Oxford. The defender is tipped to be a future England international, and is already attracting interest from the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea after failing to agree a professional contract for the Hammers. With agreement over a new long-term contract for Oxford yet to be agreed, the Boleyn Ground outfit are doing everything in their power to keep hold of their brightest prospect. Offering a lucrative new deal is the first step, which could mean games in the first team by the time he is 16. Captain of the winning England U-17 side in the summer, the 6”3 centre half got a taste of what it would be like in a competitive match in claret and blue, sitting on the bench in the Capital One Cup second round tie against Sheffield United.
Now heavily involved in Nick Haycock’s Under-21 development side, Oxford is looking to go one step further with the first team. Whether that will be with West Ham is yet to be known, but the Hammers will not want to lose one of their brightest stars for minimal fee at the end of the season considering he is out of contract. For a player to be considered for a place in the first team by the time he is 16 just shows how much the youth coaches, and indeed, Sam Allardyce, believe that this player can become as good as Rio Ferdinand was in his prime. But if the Premier League’s big boys are lurking, Oxford could well be tempted in developing as a player at a bigger club, which is a real shame.