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What is the point of the academy?

Young players don’t have a chance to make the first team

Shrewsbury Town v West Ham United - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

West Ham United have traditionally been referred to as the academy of football. However, despite a glut of talented young players, I’ve increasingly been finding myself asking, “what’s the point of the academy?”

It’s becoming more and more clear that young players do not and will not have a place in the first team squad, despite what managers may say.

Gone are the days of players signing with a team as a teenager and working their way to the first team squad and potential stardom. This transfer window more than any has proven that the academy is obsolete and a waste of money.

Declan Rice could have been Hammer of the Year last year had Marko Arnautovic not had a great streak of play at the end of the season. Yet, Rice will likely find himself on the bench for much of this season after the signings of Issa Diop, Fabian Balbuena, and Carlos Sanchez.

Preston North End v West Ham United - Pre-Season Friendly Photo b Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

All of those players play the same positions that Declan Rice can play. Rice was a stud last season and certainly has earned the right to start for West Ham. I can understand building depth in the squad but it’s not like there wasn’t already some depth available.

Reece Oxford is another casualty of manager’s refusing to allowing a capable young player to develop in the first team. Oxford will always be remembered for his excellent start to the 2015-16 season against Arsenal. Performances that likened him to the next Rio Ferdinand. Lofty praise for a 16-year-old.

Arsenal v West Ham United - Premier League
Why wasn’t Oxford played instead of Jose Fonte
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Yet, Slaven Bilic yanked the England U23 player due to a couple average to poor performances. He had to sit behind Jose Fonte who was an absolute dumpster fire of a defender during his time in claret and blue.

Oxford has since rode the bench and been loaned stunting his development. Adversity and mistakes are how players learn and Oxford has not been afforded that opportunity. He’s another player that provided depth at the central defender and defensive midfield positions.

Manuel Pellegrini doesn’t seem to have Oxford in his plans with plenty of rumors of a second loan or permanent move on the horizon for the teen. Both he and Declan Rice have shown themselves to be Premier League caliber players, yet successive managers have signed players to their position and stunted their growth.

Ipswich Town v West Ham United - Pre-Season Friendly
Balbuena has not been good so far for West Ham. Jose Fonte 2.0?
Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

I’m not trying to say that Issa Diop, Fabian Balbuena, and Carlos Sanchez are bad signings. All I’m asking is other than Diop can you definitively say that Balbuena or Sanchez will be significantly better than Rice or Oxford? Sure, the young guys might make a few mistakes that the more experienced Balbuena and Sanchez , but to me learning from those mistakes is worth more than a few points.

Balbuena looks to be the second coming of Jose Fonte. A player that was supposed to come in and be a starter and add depth. So far both have been garbage for West Ham and have made mistakes that Rice or Oxford could make.

The sale of Domingos Quina is another move that makes me question if the academy is worth having. Watford got a steal for a kid that many consider to be a wonderkid. I understand that there were likely agent and contract issues that made the Quina sale happen but I have a hard time believing that he couldn’t have been loaned out or made a few appearances in cup games and a league game here or there.

Reece Burke is another player that never had a chance to play in the West Ham first team despite excellent reviews from the U23 team and his loans. He was sold to Hull this summer for £1.5 million.

West Ham United v Shrewsbury Town - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round Replay
Burke was never given much of a chance at West Ham.

West Ham are not a club that will consistently be able to spend £100 million every transfer window, which makes bringing young players through the academy all the more important. Just look at Tottenham as an example of a team that has built their squad effectivly through transfers and academy players.

Harry Kane, Danny Rose, and Harry Winks have all come through the Spurs academy to the first team. Dele Alli spent a bit of time in the Spurs academy before breaking through. Other players on their first team squad that are from their academy include, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Josh Onomah, and Kyle Walker-Peters. That’s a lot of first team talent to come from an academy.

Last season Brace The Hammer did a series on the best academy players in the system. Yet many of them haven’t been given a shot at the first team.

The top 15 prospects were as follows and I’ve included some comments about their current situation.

Fernandes, Edimilson: Loaned to Fiorentina with an option to buy. Looks like he’s done at West Ham.

Cullen, Josh: Listed on the first team squad but will likely never see the pitch. Rumored to be sold or potentially loaned.

Oxford, Reece: Listed in the first team squad but unlikely to play. Rumored to be sold or loaned.

Quina, Domingos: Sold to Watford for £1 million.

Rice, Declan: In the first team squad and should battle for some playing time. Best chance of playing is as a CDM.

Burke, Reece: Sold to Hull City for £1.5 million

Holland, Nathan: Listed in the first team squad but unlikely to play. Potential to be loaned.

Martinez, Toni: Loaned to CF Rayo Majadahonda.

Samuelsen, Martin: Loaned to VVV-Venlo in the Eredivise. Has made 40 appearances at previous loans and been called to the Norway National Team. Unless he lights it on fire this year he won’t get a first team shot at West Ham.

Trott, Nathan: Listed as a U23 player. Could see first team action if Adrian and Lukaz Fabianski get hurt.

Browne, Marcus: U23 player currently on loan at Oxford United. Will need to really impress to ever have a shot at the first team.

Makasi, Moses: U23 player again likely to be released or sold. No first team chance.

El Mhassani, Anouar: Academy player, could see some U23 action.

Pike, Alex: Released, has yet to sign for new club

Kemp, Daniel: U23 player but has no realistic shot at first team action.

Of the 15 players, three are currently in the first team. Of those three only one has a realistic shot of seeing any meaningful playing time. Of the 15 five of them have been sold, loaned, or released for this season. Six of the 15 are still in the U23 or Academy side.

Shrewsbury Town v West Ham United - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round
Will Cullen ever get a shot in the Premier League?
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

It’s a bit sad to see a lot of these talented players have already moved on. If we’re honest with ourselves only Declan Rice has a real shot of sticking around the first team for the foreseeable future.

Which brings me to the question, what is the point of the academy? The only thing I can think of is that it’s a small money maker. We’ve signed kids for cheap from other countries or as youngsters and then sold them for marginal profits.

The Academy has not played a significant part in the development of the first team squad and it doesn’t appear that it’s going to do so in the coming years.

Of the current first team squad, Mark Noble and Declan Rice are the only two that have spent any time in the West Ham Academy. The rest of the players have been signed as already developed players. So why bother wasting the money to “develop” players in our academy when other teams are doing a better job developing talent that we just go and sign?

Ipswich Town v West Ham United - Pre-Season Friendly
Mr. West Ham and club legend
Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

It’d sure save fans a lot of time thinking about who the next prospect that will make it big in our first team will be.

The money associated with the Premier League has made it virtually impossible for young players to go from academy to first team. I’m starting to think West Ham would be better of just signing already developed players from top leagues around the world.