(This article originally appeared on the official website of the Premier League)
West Ham United’s famous academy has produced many successful footballers over the years – from legends such as Sir Trevor Brooking and Sir Geoff Hurst to several current Barclays Premier League players including Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Michael Carrick.
The efforts of two more recent academy graduates played a vital role in the club’s return to the Barclays Premier League, according to former Hammer Tony Gale, who is himself a product of West Ham’s youth system.
“Mark Noble and James Tomkins have really come to the fore and I regard as our best players now,” Gale told premierleague.com.
The East End club have a fine tradition of developing talent which looks set to continue in the future. Ex-West Ham striker Tony Cottee is particularly excited by a youngster currently on the club’s books.
“Word has it the son of former Newcastle and Charlton midfielder Rob Lee, Elliott Lee, is a fantastic prospect. Rob was a wonderful midfielder and Elliott is 16 years old and he’s in the goalscoring mould,” said Cottee. “I’ve seen glimpses of him and I’m looking forward to seeing how he progresses at the club.
Two key changes to youth football in England are being implemented for the start of the coming season to ensure that promising youngsters such as Lee have the best chance of fulfilling their potential.
The first is the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), a new long-term strategy aiming to increase the number and standard of home-grown footballers playing first-team football.
The EPPP enables clubs to spend more time training players than they have been allowed to date and has also established a tiered academy system, with the highest-rated able to receive the most funding in order to provide the best possible facilities for the brightest prospects whilst learning their trade.
“When you strip it down to its most fundamental, the EPPP is about creating an environment where a local boy, developed in his local club from eight or nine years of age, can go on to pull on a first-team shirt of the club that he has grown up at,” said Premier League Director of Youth Ged Roddy.
The second change is the formation of the Barclays Under-21 Premier League, which will kick off on Friday.
It is the first national competition for U-21 players and will be contested by 23 clubs – 17 from the Barclays Premier League and six from Championship – who applied for Category One academy status as part of the EPPP.
The new league aims to prepare academy players for first-team football by providing regular competitive games of a high standard.
The 23 teams will be split into three groups, which will then lead to knockout stages and a final to decide the winner.
Teams are only allowed to play three outfield players and one goalkeeper over the age of 21. Matches will be played from Friday to Monday, ensuring that young players will still have the opportunity to play for the first team.
These two developments are part of a radical transformation of youth football, which will benefit both clubs and the national side, and hopes to see more clubs establish academies as fruitful as West Ham’s has been.
Tony Cottee and Tony Gale were speaking at Upton Park after receiving a Barclays flag to welcome West Ham United back to the Barclays Premier League. Barclays are giving away Barclays Premier League tickets every 90 minutes throughout the 2012/13 season – visit www.barclaysticketoffice.com.