There is no cookie cutter way that someone becomes a Premier League footballer. Some start off at small foreign clubs where they end up dominating the competition and moving up. Others start in huge clubs academies only to be let go and then flourish when actually played by a smaller club. Others work their way through their academy, multiple loans, and then to a first team. Some work up the academy and end up in their club’s first team.
It’s an inexact science figuring out who can cut it and who can’t. Yet, there comes a time when every player should be put in the position to either sink or swim in the world’s biggest league.
Yes, there a some players that simply aren’t good enough and won’t ever see the first team of a Premier League squad. However, at West Ham United there have been and are a number of talented youngsters that deserve their shot to see if they can cut it.
The Hammers are hovering above the dropzone and have looked absolutely horrific this season. Slaven Bilic is on the hottest seat in the league and understandably doesn’t want to turn the keys of the car over to a couple teenagers that show promise.
However, for me I’d much rather see a promising young player get a chance to play and learn from that experience, than to see numerous disappointing performances from veteran players that should know better.
Sam Allardyce and Slaven Bilic have both been very reluctant to use youth players in the first team. It’s understandable given there are HUGE financial consequences for relegation. However, to me when looking long term obviously survival is paramount but when the likes of Andre Ayew continue to churn out awful performances I have a hard time believing that Sead Haksabanovic or Nathan Holland could produce a worse performance. At some point our talented youngsters need to be given a chance.
The wisdom at West Ham has been that players need to prove it at a lower level league in order to be given a shot at the first team. I believe this line of thinking is fundamentally flawed.
There is no one way that a player develops into being a Premier League player. Take a look at argueably the best striker in the Premier League, Harry Kane. In his 56 appearances for his loan clubs, Leyton Orient, Milwall, Norwich City, and Leicester City he only scored 14 goals. Hardly and impressive total or indicative of what he has produced for Tottenham Hotspur.
How about another great English striker, Wayne Rooney. He was brought up through the Everton youth system and made his Premier League debut at 16. He impressed and was given multiple opportunities in the first team and the rest is history.
Looking at West Ham’s current youth squad there are a number of players that I believe should be given a shot over their first team counterparts. Let’s take a look.
The young Ireland defender made his debut last year but made a meaningful contribution against Manchester United and got his first start against Southampton. He played well above his age and was arguably our best player on the pitch those two games.
Against Newcastle he made a mistake that lead to a Newcastle goal and was promptly taken off at halftime. Rice was far from the only problem on the pitch during that game and despite his one mistake he actually played pretty well. However since that game on August 26th he has only seen the pitch for one minute against Huddersfield Town.
Given the shaky performances from all of our defensive midfielders and central defenders it’s amazing that we haven’t seen Rice on the pitch more often as a sub or starter.
Before Declan Rice it was Reece Oxford. Who can forget his magical start at the club by putting Mesiut Ozil in his pocket in the season opener. He continued his excellent performance against Leicester City but was also subbed off at halftime.
Granted back in 15/16 we were playing great football and Dimitri Payet was papering over a lot of the cracks in the team. However, he still didn’t see the pitch much at all even in games we comfortably won. Last year it was more of the same as our defensive midfielders and central defenders put in shaky performances Oxford rode the bench and was sent out on a very unsuccessful loan to Reading.
This season it’s more of the same as the youngster sits on the bench at Borussia Monchengladbach. While I think he’ll still benefit from a great learning opportunity in a system that is better at developing young talent than the Premier League it’s disappointing to not see him on the pitch.
Cullen has been following the Slaven Bilic model of development to a T. He went out on loan to League One side Bradford City last year. He put on excellent performances and one numerous awards for his play. Despite the fact that Cullen has the exact skill set our defensive midfield is lacking he was sent out on loan to Bolton and has been having a rough go. Most of that is due to the fact he’ not being used effectively and Bolton are a team in as much chaos as West Ham are.
We’ll see if his loan is extended into the second half of the season. If not it’d be great to see him in the first team successfully connecting the defense to our attack in ways our current midfielders have not.
Less hyped than Reece Oxford and now Declan Rice, Reece Burke put in excellent performances at Bradford sweeping all of their awards. In his limited first team chances at West Ham he looked ok with no real glaring problems. At 21 he’s about to enter his prime years. Why can’t he get a shot in the first team during cup games or as a sub when our defenders look horrid?
The young Spain striker has done nothing but impress at the U23 level. His recent hat-trick has only increased the hype this kid is getting. He just has a knack for goal and is finishing better than anyone at the club.
His loan spell at Oxford in League One was not impressive. Let’s remember though Harry Kane didn’t exactly impress in League One either. I’m not saying Toni is the next Harry Kane, but how are we supposed to find out if he doesn’t get a shot in our first team?
Sead Haksabanovic, Nathan Holland, Domingos Quina, and others:
These guys have also been impressing at the U23 level. Apart from Michail Antonio none of our wingers have anything to hang their hats on this season. Holland put in some really impressive performances this pre-season and continues to do so at the U23 level. Sure, there’s a big jump from U23s to the Premier League but why not give these guys a look. It’s not like they’ll play any worse than Andre Ayew or Marko Arnautovic have played.
I’m not saying any of these kids will be the next big star in the Premier League. Some will find success at that level, others will not. All I’m saying is to give them a chance. They show a lot of promise and potential and need to have the chance to show that off. If they play great and end up being the next Frank Lampard or Jermaine Defoe, awesome! If they end up failing, well, it’s not like any of our first teamers are going to play any better right now. If the kids aren’t going to get a shot in the first team at all, then whats the point of an academy?
West Ham need some life right now, fans need something to get behind and believe in. Be bold West Ham! Do something a little risky! You never know it could pay off huge dividends. Just ask Tottenham.