An Academic Question

West Ham – the academy of football. Taste that!

Even though I’ve always thought of that statement as more than a bit arrogant the fact that we have produced a string of talent has made it possible for us to play against the best teams in English football for quite a few seasons.
We have had the opportunity to bring on recruits fresh from, or in some cases still in, our famous academy. We’ve seen them “get their chance” a lot the last season or two, and by the famous Duckers-epos “The Football Project” this necessity was transformed into a virtue and a cornerstone.
Zola was lured here partly by his interest in forming and honing young players and there is little that gets the blood of a supporter flowing like a lad from the academy taking his first bow at Upton Park, not to mention scoring on his home debut. And I still get the shivers when I think of the Noble penalty against Liverpool a few seasons ago, a shiver that would not have been even close to the same if yet another hired gun would have put it away. Some boys get away with badge kissing!
But would it be possible to point out a few problems with this talented youngster thing without being branded as anti-academic?

It takes a great deal of coaching guts to resist the urge to field a player before they are ready (or the situation is right) when there is a lack of cover in a position.
“If they are good enough they are old enough” is often used as a way to rectify this in “throw them in at the deep end” situations.
However, there is a huge difference between being good enough to be the new boy in an otherwise stable lineup and good enough to be thrown into an ever changing squad like ours this season where the youngsters cannot rely on their surrounding teammates to tell, show or even know, what should be done.
The lack of composure and cool shown by our side of late may have several reasons. Lack of the right on/off the pitch leadership or the lack of, or trust in, a game plan are all possible reasons, but it is certainly not helped by the number of youngsters and the relatively in-experience in our side, in crucial positions at that!These poor lads have also been used as reasons and explanations for not getting proper replacements for lost players. To gain the most of the talents of Sears, Collison, Nouble, Stanislas, Tomkins, Hines, N’Gala etc and to help them fulfill their potential these young lads need to be schooled, not only technically and tactically but also into the premiership game.

It’s not only if a player is good enough that is the question, it is also if the team and the leaders are good enough to give him what he needs to succeed.


Anonymous said...

it's true, there may not appear to be quite the stability within the senior ranks at the club. However, though their exploits on the pitch were muted, the likes of Di Michele; Tristan; and, Franco were clearly brought in to partly fullfill the role of mentor. At many clubs Sears, Collison, Hines, et al would hover between 1st & 2nd team for a good few years - only featuring in perhaps the final 10 minutes, or in games versus far weaker opposition.
I think the big 'gap' for West Ham has been around leadership. I believe a team needs 11 leaders, all pulling together in the same direction, all motivated, all brimming with passion and heart.


Prince H said...

I'm with you here. I think it might be just a few of the Seniors who really take their time to educate the youngsters into the necessary matters to progress to a solid PL-player. We've heard that Carlton Cole is one of them.
But on the other hand Zola is another who gives the player a lot of individual time (Compare it with Curbs or god help Mark Hughes). I guess Keen is also there to bridge the gaps. But that is of course other times than those 90 minutes a week. When it's match noone but you can do it for yourself and the team. Are you up for it?
West Ham has a (too?) small squad which this year (again) has had a lot of injuries. So Zola has given the youngsters a go in a - as you say - very insecure and non-solid surrounding. Not good, but has there been any alternatives. Look at our reserves. Besides Quashie it has ony been 17-19 yers old in it.
But even if the youngsters have proved to be very up-and-down most of them have showed smartness and played well when they have benn given a go. Like Hines and Stanislas.
Zola has seen that these are (close to) ready. But he has not played Nouble yet (Hopefully this FA-cupweekend) or Payne for instance.
So the Question of yours is a dilemma. Always. Sometimes you must give the youngsters a go. Some teams hardly do it at all. Others do it all the time (Arse) and let people like (extremly talented) Fabregas and Song take their time in a very young team. And end up like leaders in the early 20's. (compare Noble).
The big problem is that we are not solid enough or have a big squad enough to put adequate pressure on the young ones. But "adequate pressure" is hard to define.
So in the end it must be a question between a bigger and more experienced squad (with a lot of experienced, trained players willing yo educate) and less time on the field for the young ones.

Did I say anything at all in this piece? I doubt it, but send it to you anyway.