When one considers the countless top class Premier League calibre players that have passed through the West Ham Academy of Football, one begins to wonder where The Hammers would currently be if they kept the players The Academy has had a hand in developing over the last decade and some change; from trainees and youth players to professionals that have went on to display their talents in front of the passionate supporters at Upton Park. West Ham United is not a club whose accolades lie in the trophy room, although they boast two FA Cup titles, a European Cup Winners Cup, A UEFA Intertoto Cup and two Football League Championship crowns; the greatest triumph in Hammers history is the great conveyor belt of talent that is The Academy of Football, which had been a true hub of British talent for years and a major contributor of top class footballers to the England national team for decades, their youth teams are also successful with tow FA Premier Academy u/19 League titles and 3 FA Youth Cup crowns topped off with two u/14 Milk Cup Junior titles for extra taste.
In a world where we are dared to dream, I along with many football enthusiasts find myself sharing a brew with a mate trying to fathom where West Ham United would have been had they managed to keep more of the talented players they have produced for a longer period of time; the culture and tradition of the club coupled with the quality of players that have emerged out of The Academy would make for a frightening combination when fused with the aspirations of an Arsenal or a Liverpool. The honour roll of graduates from The Academy of Football consists of legendary names that played the beautiful game before my time, Sir Bobby Moore being singled out as the greatest of a generation blessed with really talented young players that begun the ethos of The Academy; and from the generation of Frank Lampard Jr. and Rio Ferdinand onwards, West Ham United have stood out to me as a club that would have been a world beater had they been afforded the resources and support to keep hold of their protégés and trainees while grooming the side to play a winning brand of football.
GK – Stephen Bywater
(Signed as a 16 year old and won the 1999 FA Youth Cup)
CB – Anton Ferdinand CB – Rio Ferdinand (C) CB – Liam Ridgewell
(Joined The Academy aged 9) (Scouted by Frank Lampard Sr. and joined in 1992) (Begun his career at WHU)
RWB – Glen Johnson DM – Michael Carrick LWB – Kieran Richardson
(Signed for West Ham at 15) (Joined The Academy in 97 & won the FA Youth Cup in 99) (Trained at WHU as a promising youngster)
BBM – Frank Lampard Jnr. (VC) DLP – Mark Noble
(Joined The Academy in 94) (Joined WHU in 2000 and became the youngest player to appear in the reserve team at 15)
CAM – Joe Cole
(Joined The Academy in 94 & won the 99 FA Youth Cup in 99)
ST – Jermain Defoe
(Signed for The Academy at 16 and won the Premier Academy League in 99 with the u/19 team)
GK – Neil Finn
CB – Elliot Ward/ CB-James Tomkins
LB/LWB – Danny Potts
DLP – Jack Collison
BBM – Leon Britton
AM – Richard Garcia/ AM – Junior Stanislas
ST – Freddy Eastwood/ ST – Zavon Hinds
Without taking shots at any of their academy graduates that happened to be goal minders, The Hammers have been weakest at producing goalkeepers; with only one notable graduate being of the competency level required between the sticks at Premier League level, methinks England could have been more competitive had West Ham cracked the code for producing stoppers. This fantasy West Ham side would seem easy to penetrate defensively without a recognisable number one, yet the strength of The Academy is their ability to produce quality players in a variety of infield positions that would allow for seamless positional play as the midfielders are given a solid base of three natural defenders marshalling the backline, while the two wing-backs can be used to track wide runners or as orthodox full-backs when the team is under pressure.
The Ferdinand brothers and Liam Ridgewell would offer a more direct approach to ball distribution, with Rio being the only natural ball-playing centre back in the line-up, holding midfielder Michael Carrick would be allowed to use his ball retention skills at will due to the amount of space the backline will create with the extra man that allows them to draw the oppositions attackers onto them before winning the ball and launching a counter attack using the speed of the attacking players. The flanks would be left open for the two marauding wing-backs that would operate on either side. Glen Johnson and Kieran Richardson are both equally adept at flowing forward to add numbers to the attack with the intent to provide an assist or even grab a goal; the utility of such players allows the team to change tactics during the game without adversely affecting the holistic performance of the team.
Michael Carrick may not naturally be a holding midfield player, yet his ability to read the game and break down opposition moves due to his amazing anticipation and athleticism marks him as the ultimate conductor of The Academy orchestra. The 5-1-2-1-1 formation would allow this West Ham team to free up the midfield for the attacking midfield players like Frank Lampard, Mark Noble and Joe Cole; who would be tasked with the responsibility of creating the chances for The Hammers and striker Jermain Defoe. Lampard would occupy the box-to-box midfielder role, in this position he would be the general of the team thanks to his ability to boss the game with his passing vision and eye for goal at the end of his bombing runs from midfield and his ability to anticipate the spaces where the opposition seems most vulnerable allows him to always make the obvious pass leading to an attack for his team.
Mark Noble would be utilised in the deep-lying playmaker position where he would have the room to use his ability to read the game to transition between defence and attack whenever the game suited; Noble’s ability to retain the ball well and make neat passes to teammates in space makes him the ideal extra-man in the middle of the park as he seamlessly keeps the ball moving and the team playing at a tempo that allows for the them to orchestrate their attacks with all their attacking players on the same note. Joe Cole would be allowed to blossom in his most natural position as the central playmaker in a squad packed with natural ball players; in this position, Cole would be given a free role and his amazing ball-control and silky footwork would make him the ideal link-up partner for front man Jermain Defoe who would have the sole responsibility of leading the line for The Hammers.
Defoe would be the ideal striker for a team brimming with such playmaking abilities; his off the ball running ability marks him as one of the best poachers in the game and his knack for positioning himself excellently for the put back from a rebounded effort would be ideal in a side that has Frank Lampard lining the shots up accurately from long range. The team would benefit from the old-school man management style of Harry Redknapp as the gaffer with Gianfranco Zola roped in as his number two, allowing for the team to have a balanced blend of the home grown and continental styles of play and coaching. This may not be a world where cars are made of chocolate, yet that does not restrain us from dreaming about what could have been one of the greatest teams to ever play in the Premier League; this Hammers side would strike fear in most opposition locker rooms and Bob’s your mothers older brother, The Hammers would have a few more trophies in the cabinet too.