Tuesday, 29 January 2008

The Treasure Within

A more cynical man than me could suspect a subliminal subtext behind the current rash of upbeat stories featuring our youth team and reserve players on the official site. The message from the West Ham hierarchy is ostensibly that our future is in safe hands. Yet the judicious timing of such statements, released at the point that media transfer speculation is at its most rife, seems intended to convince the fans that no new players are needed in the current transfer window.

So Tony Carr is apparently delighted with young goalkeeper Marek Stech who celebrated his 18th birthday yesterday. The shot-stopper has won many admirers at the club already - not only for his imposing physique and obvious talent, but also for his work ethic and modest nature off the pitch, and is getting the best possible guidance about how to conduct himself both on and off the pitch - especially with compatriot Ludek Miklosko around as goalkeeping coach. Of the Prague-born teenager, who joined West Ham United in July 2005, Carr said: "We haven't produced a goalkeeper through the youth academy for a very long time. Hopefully he is the one that can fill in that missing link. He is a real prospect and we have got high hopes. He has got a lovely size about him and a great attitude."

The Czech Republic youth international, who starred in the 2006 European Under-17 Championship final, has stepped up to reserve-team level this campaign, not least last Wednesday when he more than played his part in the 1-0 victory away to Portsmouth. Since then, Stech has been forced on to the sidelines to rest an ankle ligament injury suffered in training but Carr said the problem would not deter his young charge for too long, citing his continual commitment to honing his skills. "He always wants to train and come in on his day off - he always wants to do that bit extra. There is no ego with him and he is definitely one for the future."

Jack Collison has been again been called up to the Wales U21s and is not too far away from being promoted to the senior set-up, according to Danny Gabbidon. The 19-year-old midfielder has been named in Brian Flynn's squad for a vital European Under-21 Championship qualifier away to Malta a week on Tuesday. It is the latest step forward in a campaign to remember. Collison first impressed in pre-season, was then made reserve-team captain, scored a wonder goal on his U21 debut and finally made his first senior West Ham United appearance on 1 January at Arsenal. "He is brilliant," said Danny Gabbidon. "He could easily play in our first team. He has been in and around the first team and he deserves that. His performances week-in, week-out in training and in games are top drawer. There are a few other young lads who, if they keep playing as they are, are going to become really good players."

Collison qualifies for Wales through a grandfather and his decision to play for the principality came via much prompting from the strong Welsh contingent at the Boleyn Ground - including, of course, Gabbidon. "I got on to him a couple of times about it," the fit-again defender said. The Under-21 manager, was on to me about it as well. Jack said he was interested and eventually, the manager came to the training ground, watched him train and had a word with him." That led to Collison's selection for the European U21 Championship qualifier at home against Bosnia-Herzegovina last November. The Cambridge-born attacking midfielder capped a sparkling display with the final goal in a 4-0 victory, running from midfield beyond three opponents, playing a neat one-two and then rounding the keeper to score. "It is great to have him," Gabbidon added, mindful that the future is bright for Wales and that there is a realistic chance of qualifying for the 2009 U21 finals in Sweden - especially as Collison went on to play his part in a 4-2 defeat of France five days after his debut. "We have got a lot of good young players coming into the Welsh team now and he is going to be one of them," added Gabbidon. "It won't be too long until he is in the full squad if he keeps carrying on the way he is."

James Tomkins is another with an impending international date. The young central defender came close to his senior-team debut when he made the matchday 16 against Arsenal on New Year's Day and Alan Curbishley has reiterated that he would not hesitate to use him in future. "If the opportunity arises, I'll give them a game," said the West Ham United manager when asked about the chances of Tomkins, who has been a regular of late for the reserves, and midfield colleague Jack Collison breaking into the first-team picture. Tompkins will join up with the England Under-19 squad for a Tuesday night friendly against Croatia in Swindon. The match will be the perfect opportunity for England to prepare for the next qualifying phase of their bid to reach this July's final European U19 Championship final round in Ukraine. The Young Lions will meet Poland, Serbia and Belarus on 26, 28 and 31 May respectively with the group winners from this Elite round going forward to the eight-team finals. Jordan Spence, Junior Stanislas and Freddie Sears have also been in the U19 frame this season and all will have hopes of being involved as well.

Freddie Sears
underlined his burgeoning potential with yet another crucial goal for Tony Carr's youth side at the weekend. The 18-year-old striker has had quite a week. He travelled with the first team to Manchester City last Sunday, started in attack alongside Craig Bellamy in the reserves on Wednesday and then struck a deserved equaliser to earn a 3-3 draw for the Academy side at home against Charlton Athletic. The Hammers had led 2-0 at one point but were pegged back by a spirited performance by their London rivals. Tony Carr said: "I am pleased we came back and showed a bit of character to get something but a little bit concerned that we made basic errors to let a team we had there for the beating back into the game. We will do analysis and work on the training ground to make sure that it doesn't happen again. It was a lack of communication and lack of people taking responsibility." Of Sears, Carr added: "He had a quiet game today but he notched a goal. That is goalscorers, you can never keep them quiet. They will have quiet spells in a game but they are always likely to score. He played in midweek and we have asked a lot of him to play two games in four days but that is going to happen occasionally. It doesn't happen every week."

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