Upton Park boss discusses the Hammers academy and the future of English football.
West Ham is known in many quarters as the academy of football – how important is bringing through young players to your strategy at the club?
I think that every football club’s strategy should be to develop young players and I think there should be more emphasis on it than there has been in recent years. The problem is that results are everything in the Barclays Premier League and everybody focuses far too much just on that. People forget that development and long term strategies are extremely important.
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West Ham’s history is one of the best, the development of players at West Ham has been an outstanding bonus to the football club over many years. Tony Carr has done an absolutely terrific job but unfortunately it is getting more and more difficult due to the circumstances that we have to work under. There is more development money coming into the game but yet again it is still a question of time. There really isn’t enough time.
We don’t have enough qualified coaches in this country and until we get that sorted out and act in the same way as we did towards the Olympics, we will not develop the next generation of top players for the England team.
From a club perspective at West Ham we work very hard to get as many academy graduates in the West Ham side as we possibly can. At the moment we have got Mark Noble, Jack Collison, James Tomkins and Danny Potts who is only 18. We are on the right track but we should be developing more.
How do you know when a young player like Dan Potts is ready to make the step up to the first team?
Well it is about introducing him into the first team squad from the development squad first of all. You see his reports, you go and watch him in the academy games and then in the u-21 games and then you invite him into your senior training squad and you see how he handles that situation. Some players come in and integrate very naturally, some find it a bit daunting so then you need to send them back to the development squad and assess when the right time would be to bring them back.
Once they have become part of the first team squad you would try to choose a low key game to introduce them into the team. Those games from our point of view would be pre-season friendlies or the early stages of a cup where you might come up against a lower league team. Another option is of course sending them out on loan for a while and monitoring them. Danny has done particularly well in all departments and hence why he has played in the first team.
The West Ham academy was granted Category One status in July – what impact do you think the Elite Player Performance Plan will have on the way young talent is produced in the English game?
I think it is a fantastic idea which is still in its infancy and some adjustments still need to be made. If I had to point at one area it is that it is basing itself in the latter end of youth development which is 16-21. I think there is a lot more which needs to be done between 12-16. If we could roll it into that age and get more time where we can give them schooling at the football club then that will work and we will definitely see a benefit.
Will the Elite Player Performance Plan have benefits for the national side?
I think it has to; we have to think British more and be more selfish. Far too many of us today are thinking that because we have a worldwide brand that it is enough to just develop players from any nation. For me far too many are brought to Britain from abroad to take up academy places in this country, which doesn’t happen in other European countries.
We say that we have got to be fair to all but if you go to Spain or Italy or Holland etc you don’t see that fairness in those countries. You don’t see the integration of other nationalities into their academies so I think that we need to be a little bit more selfish and pay more attention to developing our own.
Eventually the England side will be very poor because there are not enough players to choose from now and in the near future if we are not careful there will be even less to choose from.
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