In terms of youth academies, few cities are better than London. Chelsea has one of England’s finest, with talents breaking through despite the ridiculous sums they pay for first-team players. Arsenal’s title charge this season has been heavily aided by players who came through their academy. Tottenham’s academy, too, has produced some fine players — although most of them spend the better part of their careers away from the club, Harry Kane aside. Millwall, QPR, Crystal Palace, Fulham — the list goes on and on.
Few academies have a track record as good as West Ham’s, though. Just look at some of the graduates: Frank Lampard, Paul Ince, John Terry, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Mark Noble, and Bobby Moore are just some of the names to pass through the club’s academy. Current names include star and captain Declan Rice, up-and-coming right-back Ben Johnson, and, abroad, Augsburg’s star defender Reece Oxford.
This season, West Ham’s academy strength was on full display. The Hammers won the u18 Premier League South with two games to spare, beating fellow London sides along the way (including Arsenal to clinch the title.) On April 25, they will play that same Arsenal side in the FA Youth Cup. Of course, the team has several prospects to watch — but which ones could make the jump to the first team?
Oliver Scarles, 17, DM/LB
Oliver Scarles sums up what has been a strange season for West Ham. Scarles made his debut in the Europa Conference League in November at the age of 16, becoming one of the youngest debutants in the club’s illustrious history. Against one of Romania’s top teams, FCSB, he won Man of the Match — but he hasn’t made another appearance for the first team. In any competition.
A versatile player, Scarles can feature in many different positions but is typically either a defensive midfielder or a left-back. Out wide, his crossing and passing are on full display, but when he plays centrally Scarles battles for the ball and wins tackles. In the u18 Premier League this year, he has two goals and five assists. He should get more chances next season.
Lewis Orford, 17, CM
Orford was on the bench the day Scarles made his lone appearance, but the (at the time) 16-year-old did not enter the field. However, a first-team appearance can’t be too far away, as Orford has been one of West Ham’s top players on the u18 side. He has a whopping 19 goal contributions in 18 games, including a brace against Aston Villa.
Orford is a creative midfielder, constantly sending the ball up fields and looking to make key passes. At the same time, he’s able to shoot from distance, poising a constant threat. It’s strange that he hasn’t made his debut yet, despite signing a professional contract in February. A loan move to League One or League Two next season could give the youngster some playing time.
Divin Mubama, 18, ST
Mubama is already familiar with the first team. The striker has made appearances in the Premier League, Conference League, and FA Cup this season, even scoring in the Conference League knockouts. Mubama only spent five games with the u18s this season before moving to the u21s, but he still scored five goals during the span and played a role in the triumph of the u18s.
West Ham’s striker situation has been divisive this season, with manager David Moyes preferring Michail Antonio to new signing Gianluca Scamacca, who is now undergoing surgery because of an injury. As a result, Mubama could see more time as a backup this season and potentially next season if Scamacca decides to go elsewhere for more minutes.
Callum Marshall, 18, ST/RW
Marshall, too, signed a professional contract this season, agreeing to one in December. The Northern Ireland youth international only signed last January, but has quickly become one of West Ham’s top prospects. He leads the team in goals with 14, with two braces and a hat trick, while he has three more goals in the FA Youth Cup.
However, with Mubama ahead of him in the pecking order, it’s unlikely Marshall will break into the first team soon. Just like Orford, a loan move to a League One or League Two side would help the goalscorer get experience at a higher level.
Daniel Rigge, 17, CM/CAM
Rigge is a great example of the pull of West Ham’s academy: one of the top talents in England, he left Manchester City to join the Irons. In his first season, Rigge has two goals and three assists and has created dozens of chances with his dangerous dribbling and playmaking.
Rigge will probably stay one more season with the u18s, having just joined the team. However, it’s not unreasonable to assume he could make one or two appearances in the first team next year. At the very least, expect him to earn some minutes with the West Ham u21s.
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