West Ham fans around the world have expressed their opinions in the aftermath of the loss to Astra Giurgiu on Thursday night; most blinded by the emotion of suffering defeat to a team none of us believed should have been given a second thought. I’m not suggesting they’re wrong, or suggesting they shouldn’t voice their disappointment – of course they should, it shows they care – but it did mean that there were a fair amount of deluded #BilicOut style comments floating around.
Rather than jump on this band wagon I decided to take a step back, let it sink in, and look for the positives (or “claret linings” as I’m calling them) in our brief European adventure.
Let’s face it…West Ham being in this year’s Europa League, via the proverbial backdoor of winning the Fair Play League. Their qualification to Europe came despite finishing in an unimpressive 12th. It was almost laughable. The whole situation has been the equivalent of finding yourself at a bar on a night out, chatting with a smoking-hot girl whose way out of your league. However, she is “taking one for the team” after being her best friends wing-girl on her birthday: you’re only there by virtue of your mate’s efforts with the birthday girl, and deep down inside you know it’s not going to end well!
The big positive that came out of the six games we played, for me, was the performances of our youngsters.
We got the chance to see more of the next group of players coming off the academy production line than we would have otherwise, and they were tested against better, more-organised opposition than if they had been running out against lower league opposition in a friendly. By throwing them in and giving them the chance to play alongside first team players in a competitive environment, we’ve learned who has the potential to take the step up and stake a claim for the bench this season, and, who still has some way to go in their development.
So with that in mind here’s my take on a few of the players who had their chance, and which ones I believe are the ‘Claret Lining’ on the West Ham cloud.
The undeniable shining star! At just 16 years old, already standing at 6ft 3in, this lad showed he is first in line and banging heavily on that door for a not only a bench spot, but, a possible starting place. Whilst still very young he showed maturity beyond his years, especially after an early booking against FC Lusitans and managing to keep a level head for the rest of the match. He displayed an ability to read the play intelligently, and, by being able to play in defence or midfield he showed he is not a limited player by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, he’s still young, but regardless, he is undoubtedly going to be involved with the first team for the majority of the season, whilst playing for the development squad as well.
According to club insiders Josh is considered one of our brightest prospects. At 19 years old he has a few more years experience behind him than some of the other development squad players that featured in Europe, and, he took his chance well. Playing in central midfield, and showing an engine and tenacity not-unlike Mark Noble, I think we’re seeing Mr West Ham’s eventual replacement as time progresses. With a starting role against teams in the early rounds of the League and FA Cups this season, and coming off the bench against teams in the lower half of the league I think this could be Cullen’s breakthrough season.
Lee will be the most recognised name in this list having made his professional debut for the Hammers back in 2013 against Man Utd in the FA cup. At 20 years old he’s a stocky player with a natural instinct for finishing, despite not being blessed with blistering pace, he is speedy in bursts, which helps with his tendency to play off the shoulder of his opposing CB’s. Having not been given much of a chance in the West Ham first team thus far he showed against Lusitans that he is still around with a very well taken goal, and if the service into the box had been better against Astra and he wasn’t forced into the wings, maybe he could have grabbed himself a goal!
From what we saw of Lewis in his three games against Lusitans and Astra he looks like he’ll be able to fill in should Cresswell become injured/suspended during the season. Given that West Ham have struggled with full backs over the years we now possess three young, British, LB’s in; Cresswell, Hendrie and Page. Much like Cullen, he should be started in the early rounds of the Cup if we draw lower league opposition. A tidy left-back who likes to get forward, he showed himself to be a good passer of the ball and at times linked up very well with Matt Jarvis throughout the first leg against Lusitans. At 19 years old, he should be looking to establish himself in and around the first team this season.
There you have it, my view on what we can take from our rather brief, failed attempt at flirting with the Europa League. With the quality we’ve added to the first team, and with a crop of British youngsters coming through to back them up, we’re in a good position to improve on last season.
Which of our young players has impressed you thus far, and who is your tip to go on and achieve great things in a West Ham shirt?