THERE must be something in the water at West Ham’s academy.
Just when you think the club had outdone themselves by churning out the likes of Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole and Rio Ferdinand in the space of a few years, a new batch of youngsters with similar promise are emerging on the conveyor belt, having been carefully crafted in the warehouse before being wheeled out for a grand opening.
Eight graduates from the self-titled ‘Academy of Football’ have already featured for the Hammers’ first team this season. Six of those have found the net.
It is an incredible statistic, whichever way you look at it.
Granted, many of these young protégés have only been drafted in as emergency cover, as a growing list of injuries threatens to drag the team back into mid-table, away from the seventh-place finish that would bring the club European football next year.
However, Tony Carr’s academy has come up trumps once again, with winger Junior Stanislas, 19, and 20-year-old defender James Tomkins the latest apprentices to take centre stage.
Both scored their first goals for the club in Saturday’s comfortable 2-0 victory over Sunderland, and with their main rivals for a Europa League spot all losing at the weekend, the Irons are back in the box seat.
As the old adage goes, fortune favours the brave. And it has certainly been a bold move from manager Gianfranco Zola to delve into the unknown and experiment with a group of untried, untested young players this season.
But it is a gamble that has paid off handsomely for the Italian.
“It is a fantastic return. 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,” stated Zola.
“It is fantastic when you see players come from the youth team and go into the first team, play well, do the job and score also. It is great not only for me but also for the club and the supporters. That is what we want to do.
“I said at the very beginning that the idea was to create this sort of a situation and that is working very well. I am very glad and pleased, because when I spoke for the first time it was just a project and probably some did not believe it.
“But to see things coming together like this is such an unbelievable satisfaction for me and the staff. It is great after all the difficult months we had; it gives us even more confidence for the future.”
Zola’s faith in the likes of Stanislas and Tomkins has brought the best out of them, and the former insists he has just been grateful for the opportunity to strut his stuff.
“It’s disappointing for the likes of Behrami, Collison and Parker, who are injured, but for me, it’s great because the gaffer is willing to give young boys a go and he’s given me my chance today,” enthused Stanislas.