To be part of a West Ham community is a cool thing. This article is by fellow blogger RapidHammer, and some of it appeared on his brilliant blog albeit in German (see my site-list). RapidHammer was kind enough to translate it for Bubbleview. Enjoy his article and information!
The first team from Europe that was able to gain victory on professional level against an English side was a team from Austria, “Hakoah Vienna”. The English club defeated on its own ground by 0-5 in 1923 was West Ham United. Some 85 years later a young midfielder from Austria came to East London to prove again that Austrian players are able to compete at the highest level. Georg Grasser tells us how his transfer to West Ham United was made possible, which are the main differences between England and Austria and what goals the young midfielder has set. He spoke to Austrian blogger “RapidHammer”.
In autumn 2007 a youth team from the academy of Grazer AK played three friendlies in London against Tottenham, Charlton and West Ham. Georg Grasser, a left footed midfielder, impressed in the game against West Ham and got invited to East London for a one week trial. In August 2008 Georg Grasser’s transfer from GAK to West Ham’s “Academy of Football” was effected and the then 17 year old moved from the Styrian capital Graz to East London.
His choice of club was motivated by Grasser’s conviction that he would have the best prospect of further development within West Ham’s “Youth Academy“. He has signed a 2-years-contract with the Hammers. At the end of this spell the young Austrian will be able to leave on free if West Ham does not offer a new contract, Grasser explains.
The Academy of Football
“They made a good and fair offer,” says Grasser who now follows in the footsteps of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and the legendary Bobby Moore. Recently players from the Academy integrated in West Ham’s first team were 19 years old Freddie Sears and Junior Stanislas as well as 20 years old Jack Collison and James Tomkins. Mark Noble, still only 21 years old, has already played on highest level for years.
“We try to create the best possible environment,” says Tony Carr, head of West Ham’s Youth Academy, who brought young Georg Grasser to East London. “My instruction to all the coaches is to bring positive comments.” Yet, even within a structure that costs upwards of £1million to run annually, the West Ham academy can only cater for about 15 players in each age group, and still many youth coaches are working almost on free.
A player can join one of England’s Football Academies, which are run by every Premier League club and by some other football league clubs, at the age of nine, but players under 12 years must not live more than one hour’s distance from the club, players up to Under 16-level not more than 90 minutes. Usually at the age of 16 it is decided if a young player is offered a three-year-contract as a “trainee” or not. In theory it is possible to sign a professional contract at the age of 17, but most of the players are given more time to establish themselves as regulars within the Youth Team and the Reserves.
It was some months before Georg Grasser’s 18th birthday when he moved from the GAK-Academy to the famous "Academy of Football“ and signed a two-years-contract. Though Grasser turned 18 on October 3rd, he still can play in the U18 but the young midfielder has also become a regular in West Ham’s reserve team.
Change has been hard
The change from football in Austria to West Ham’s U18, which competes against nine other teams in the Premier Academy League, has been “a very hard one,” says Grasser. Though he had been a member of a football academy in Austria which he describes as “a good place” for his development and had just broken into the first team of GAK (the club from Graz won the championship in 2004 but now plays in the third tier of the Austrian league system), he had “not even been close” to the physical level of his fellow players at West Ham. The U18 in England "corresponds to U19 in Austria“, the young Styrian says.
The training is very challenging, says Grasser: “We are drilled playing one-two” and also in training “everybody wants to win the game”. It took some time until the young Austrian got adopted to speed and hardness of English football, but meanwhile even the official website of West Ham United has acknowledged that “Georg Grasser is fitting in well.“
Johnny Ertl, another Austrian from Styria playing in England (with Championship side Crystal Palace), tries to explain what English football is like in a more ribald manner: “You have to work your ass off. That’s what the crowd wants to see here,” he says. Commitment, speed of play and even the air pressure of the ball are different from Austria, the 26-year-old who also came to England last summer explains “Everything is done on high speed and the net-playing time is 5 – 7 minutes longer than in Austria”, Ertl believes.
Georg Grasser sometimes meets up with his fellow Austrian in London. There is a circle of friends calling themselves the “Kernoel Connection” named after the pumpkin seed oil which is one of Styria’s gastronomic specialities. And Grasser is at one with Johnny Ertl when they speak about the attitude towards football in their new place of domicile: “They live football,” Georg Grasser says. “It’s an incredibly good feeling to play football in an environment like this.”
West Ham have provided for Georg’s workaday life at East London. The youth players who don’t live nearby stay at a big house in Romford, Essex, not far from West Ham’s training centres at Chadwell Heath and Little Heath. The players are given the opportunity to attend coaching courses and to pass the UEFA-B-coaching exam. A referee course has already been passed successfully by Georg Grasser. And every Wednesday morning the youth players must be swotting in a “college” where the get education enabling them to continue studies at several university institutions in England.
Step by step
As to his future Georg Grasser who has been lucky not getting seriously injured so far tries to go step by step. He has already managed to reach the first aim he had set: he now plays regularly not only in the U18 but also in the Reserves. After the reserves games against Arsenal and Aston Villa in March coach Alex Dyer told the official website that he had really been pleased with the application and attitude of the young players. Georg Grasser was one of the players the manager mentioned by name after the Villa game saying that the U18-midfielder had been doing very well in playing in front of the defence.
“My ambition is to stay a professional, hopefully in the best possible league”. Grasser is aiming high, but he also knows that in football everything can change very quickly. “I try to take one step after the other,” he says. “You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.” Asked if he has some kind of a “life motto” Georg didn’t want to tell us: “Something like that can also be very restrictive,” the 18-year-old says.
It would be "the highest" for Georg to play for the Austrian national side as his friend Johnny Ertl did who has earned seven caps. Grasser was a member of the Austrian Under 18-squad but last autumn he was not called up to the U19 which reached the last qualifying round for the Under 19-European championship in Ukraine in 2009. “Of course I was disappointed about the manager’s decision,” Grasser said at that time, but it also gave him the opportunity to concentrate on his acclimatisation at his new club.
In March Georg was called up again and earned his second Under 19-cap in Austria’s 2-0 friendly victory over Belgium last Wednesday when he came on as a 75th minute-substitue. One day later Georg Grasser was even featuring on West Ham’s official website. “Grasser has impressed the club’s Academy team and reserve team staff with his tenacity and passing ability since joining West Ham last summer,” one could read there. The teenager now hopes to keep his place in the Austrian Under-19 for the upcoming qualifiers against Serbia, Hungary and Finland in a tournament in Serbia in May.
“Can we have a little game?”
Back in London Georg Grasser has resumed the daily training sessions at the Little Heath Youth centre in the morning. And in the afternoon the exercises mostly take place at Chadwell Heath where Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke are overseeing the senior team’s training.
“As we work in the same area there are contacts with the ‘first team’ too,” Georg Grasser, who is simply called “George” by the other players, tells us about the reserve’s training sessions at Chadwell Heath. Sometimes the players from the first team take an active part in the training of the reserves and then it can happen that somebody says: “Can we have a little game, please?” Georg Grasser against Scott Parker, Carlton Cole or Matthew Upson – of course it won’t be easy to leave a mark in a game against these players. But if a young player manages to succeed in a training session like this he will be able to forge ahead with the club that is called “The Academy of Football”.
“My ambition is to play as a professional in the best possible league,” Georg said about his intended career. Perhaps this could even be the Premier League.