West Ham United have long-been known as the Academy of Football for their proven track record of developing the future stars of the game, be it three-time Premier League winner Frank Lampard, former England captain John Terry, Champions League victor Michael Carrick or UEFA Super Cup champion Paul Ince.
Developing in east London and making a career in east London has not been a successful venture for all in recent years, however, with hot prospect Grady Diangana sold this summer after just 21 first-team appearances amid the Irons’ need to raise funds to strengthen David Moyes’ squad.
But there remains plenty to brag about at Chadwell Heath, particularly in teen sensation Jamal Baptiste.
The young centre-half who represented West Ham’s Under 18s when only 14-years-old has been lauded by The Guardian as the Hammer’s top youth prospect in their Next Generation 2020 list, to add to the buzz already surrounding the 16-year-old.
Baptiste has impressed many after becoming the second-youngest ever to play for the Irons’ U23s when he made his debut against Valencia’s B-side side last year, feature for England’s youth ranks and impressing his coaches with strength, versatility and talent in possession.
Much will be expected from Baptiste’s continued rise through the ranks, with pressure already growing on his shoulders to become a great at the London Stadium from former players.
“I’m a massive fan,” said Carlton Cole, who is working in the Irons’ academy, on Inside Irons Episode Three back in August. “He’s training with the first-team at the moment, so I think he’s definitely a massive prospect.
“He’s going to be the next Anton Ferdinand hopefully or the next Rio.”
Current first-team ace Angelo Ogbonna has likewise been impressed with what he’s seen from Baptiste, having trained alongside the youngster this summer and played alongside him in a pre-season meeting with Wycombe Wanderers.
It was Baptiste’s maiden first-team appearance at just 16 years of age, yet his lack of senior experience only sparked one major issue when he let substitute Uche Ikpeazu in to shoot, but otherwise stood out with an assured and composed effort.
“He played really, really well and as a young player you can make one or two mistakes, but your behaviour has to be the right one, like Dec [Rice] when he starts,” Ogbonna told West Ham’s official website.
“Jamal has a lot of work still to do but he is composed. He is still young and has to take things step by step. This was just a pre-season game. He has to follow the senior players and the manager’s instruction and it’s good for him to have people he can look to.
“Having senior players around like myself, the captain [Mark Noble] and Dave [Martin] in goal can help by giving him advice and this is really, really good.”
But Baptiste cannot now take it easy and believe his route into the first-team is nailed on, as West Ham fans are only too well aware of how things can fade quickly for one of their stars of tomorrow having seen Reece Oxford’s progress disappear after making history as the club’s youngest-ever player aged 16 years and 198 days old against Lusitanos in the Europa League.
Oxford went on to make just 16 further senior outings in claret and blue before joining FC Augsburg in a permanent deal last summer, where he has only managed to earn 15 appearances since including a mere 32 minutes this season across all competitions.
Moyes would do well to manage the expectations coming Baptiste’s way and not allow the comparisons to Rio or Anton Ferdinand to become the force that overwhelms a budding career.