The Academy award goes to . . .
DURING the enigmatic Eggert Magnusson s infamous time as chairman of West Ham the sky was the limit in terms of big-money signings, writes DAVE EVANS. The likes of Matty Upson, Scott Parker, Craig Bellamy and Kieron Dyer arrived for big money and were giv
DURING the enigmatic Eggert Magnusson's infamous time as chairman of West Ham the sky was the limit in terms of big-money signings, writes DAVE EVANS.
The likes of Matty Upson, Scott Parker, Craig Bellamy and Kieron Dyer arrived for big money and were given salaries to match, but it was only a matter of time before the bubble burst.
The arrival of Gianfranco Zola seems to have coincided with a renaissance in the emergence of a host of youth players from the West Ham Academy, and the little Italian believes that is exactly what he is here for.
"I said at the very beginning that the idea was to create this sort of a situation with the youngsters and that is working very well," he said.
"I am very glad and pleased because when I spoke to you for the first time it was just a project and probably some did not believe it."
The project has certainly been put into operation. Jack Collison (20) has been one of the stars of the season, while Junior Stanislas (19) and James Tomkins (20) have also battled their way into the West Ham first team
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Add to that equation, Freddie Sears (19), Josh Payne (18) and Bondz N'Gala (19), who have all been on the fringes of the first team this season, and it is easy to see just what potential the Hammers have in their Academy at the moment.
"To see things coming together like this is such an unbelievable satisfaction for me, for Steve Clarke, Antonio Pintus, Kevin Keen and Ludo Miklosko and for the club who has put so much faith in what we are doing - it is unbelievable," added Zola.
West Ham employed technical director Gianluca Nani to find players for the Hammers from all over the world, but it seems this latest batch of talent will have cost the club only the time coaches like Tony Carr have put in to nurture them from a very young age.
"It is a fantastic return," confirmed Zola. "I said I like to look for young players and we can bring some good players from abroad, but the idea was also to develop the players that I have over here.
"So far it has worked very well, and we will be working even harder on this.
"It's fantastic when you see players come from the youth team and go into the first team. It is great, not only for me, but also for the club and the supporters - that is what we want to do."
The last major batch of youngsters to come through the ranks was under Harry Redknapp when the likes of Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole and Glen Johnson made their names at West Ham.
We all know what happened to them, sold to balance the books and never adequately replaced, but it seems that under Zola that sort of wholesale exodus is not likely to happen.
So how does the manager rate this latest crop of young talent?
"It is difficult to say," he answered cautiously. "You need to coach the young players yourself in order to assess them properly.
"But with regard to my young players I am very pleased with them, I think they can become important players, not only for West Ham, but for the Premier League - honestly."
Under the tutelage of Zola, Clarke and Carr, things are looking bright for the Academy boys, but that is the proper tradition of West Ham United as the manager understands only too well.
"Of course I know the tradition here," he smiled. "The club has always produced very good players and that is the reason why I believe the club appointed me, because they know that I like working this way, and they want to carry on doing this."
Hammers fans will wait with baited breath to see who is next on the West Ham conveyor belt.