West Ham have produced a plethora of exceptional talent from their youth academy in the Premier League era, including the likes of Frank Lampard, Jermain Defoe and Rio Ferdinand, who all went on to enjoy brilliant careers in the English top flight.
Currently, youth academy graduates Declan Rice, Mark Noble and Ben Johnson are part of a Hammers team not only in search of Champions League football for next season but also looking to win their first Europa League crown after knocking out Sevilla in the round of 16 on Thursday night.
The club have frequently used European football as a platform for their younger talent to showcase themselves at senior level, and it was no different with former prospect Reece Burke. He made five Europa League appearances for the Irons at the qualifying stages between 2015 and 2016, with the club’s former manager Sam Allardyce describing him as a “commanding” centre-half.
However, after failing to establish himself as a first team player with the east London club, he was shipped out on loan several times between 2015 and 2018, turning out for Bradford City in League One before Championship stints at Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers.
Before his 22nd birthday, he found himself out the exit door at the London Stadium permanently, joining Hull City for £1.53m in 2018 as Manuel Pellegrini didn’t view him as Premier League quality or part of his future plans in east London.
After three solid campaigns with the Tigers, Luton Town signed him on a free transfer last summer, and he has become a key figure in a team fighting for promotion to the Premier League despite being in the National League just eight years ago, with them currently sitting fifth in the Championship.
He has joined fellow ex-West Ham youth prospects Dan Potts and Pelly Ruddock-Mpanzu at the Bedfordshire club, while Elliot Lee is out on loan and former £10.2m Hammers signing Robert Snodgrass moved to Kenilworth Road last month on a free transfer.
Having started in 21 of his 23 Championship games this term, Burke has earned six clean sheets, made four clearances and 1.4 interceptions, and won 4.3 duels and one tackle per game, also without making a single error leading to a goal.
He almost made headlines in the FA Cup earlier this month as he scored the opening goal for Luton against Premier League giants Chelsea, but the superior firepower of the west Londoners eventually downed Luton. However, it was further evidence that West Ham might have made a mistake in selling Burke too soon, and next year they may even come up against him in the league if the Hatters can make the giant leap into the top flight.