Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The Kids Are Alright

Josh Payne fulfilled every ball-boy’s dream when he made the bench for West Ham United on Sunday. Andrew Dillon in today's Sun describes how the Hammers’ youth team midfielder, 18, was due to be throwing the ball back against Manchester City at Upton Park — only to be hurled into the action as part of the 18-man squad.

Payne has made rapid progress this season, catching the manager's eye with his cultured displays for the Under-18s, the reserves and during a hugely productive three-month loan spell with Cheltenham Town. Although he has been actively training with the first team in recent weeks - as late as Friday he was still expecting to be joining others from the Academy in being sat pitch-side to return the ball into play.

It was revealed on the official site how Tony Carr had asked members of his U18 side to take on the ball-boy responsibilities because, given their own Sunday match commitments, the lunchtime fixture was too early for the junior Academy members who usually do the job. Payne said: "I got told I was going to be ball-boy on Friday and then ended up training with the first team at Upton Park on Saturday and then travelled with them [to the pre-match hotel]. Then I got told on Sunday morning that I was on the bench," Payne continued. "I was over the moon. To go from youth team to reserves to the first team is great. I had no idea. They don't tell you anything. I've been training with the first team quite regularly and getting tastes of it and then I've gone straight in."

Payne said he could not express how it felt to be warming up during a Premier League encounter - just yards in front of his U18 mates as they helped keep the play moving along. "I can't really explain what it was like to be out there with the crowd," he added. "I was nervous but then I get nervous before a youth team game. It was a fantastic experience." Like his fellow weekend substitute, the 19-year-old Junior Stanislas, Basingstoke-born Payne is hoping to take the next step before the season is out. "I just need to stay on my toes and be ready. Hopefully I can get in the first team but we'll see what happens as I don't want to say too much now. I'll get a few more games under my belt for the reserves and then we'll see."

Academy director Carr said the experience was no more than the versatile Payne - who can play at centre-back or in midfield - deserved after his tremendous season. It was all summed up by a week that began with an Under-18 fixture against Arsenal, went on with a midweek reserve duel with Tottenham Hotspur and then took in the rarefied air of the Premier League on the following Sunday. "We had to press the Under-18s into action as ball-boys this week," said Carr. "Josh was going to be one of them until he got the call to be with the first team. That is certainly a big jump. I didn't even know he was going to be on the bench. The manager only named his team just before kick-off. He has made a great stride forward. It is a great experience for him and hopefully it will spur him on to work harder and want more of it. It is great for all the young players to see. I said to the boys just this morning - 'one minute you are a ball boy the next you are on the bench. Don't feel you are far away from it because the route through is there. That is the way it is at West Ham.'"

Like Payne, Junior Stanislas is now hungry to make the breakthrough. "I want to push on in the first team and start being on the bench," he admitted on WHUTV when asked to explain his immediate goals. "I travelled with the first team the other day. I want to be on the bench, get some game time and come on and get five minutes here and there and get myself in the picture. I am training with the first team. It is good. I was a bit slow to start with but obviously training with those players can only make you better." Stanislas has already made a big impression this season while on loan to Southend United.

Elsewhere, Blue Square Premier outfit Eastbourne Borough have signed West Ham striker Jack Jeffrey on loan until the end of the season. The 19-year-old had loan spells at Hampton & Richmond and Cambridge United last season and had a brief spell with Leyton Orient this term. His September spell with the League One O's was curtailed after just 66 minutes when he suffered an injury. Jeffrey, who has featured regularly for Alex Dyer's reserve side this season, could now make his Borough debut against Oxford United on Tuesday.

Another young player already on loan is winger Kyel Reid, who according to some reports today, has hinted that he could make his move to Wolves permanent. It is in stark contrast to Radoslav Kovac, who has pleaded with West Ham to sign him on a full-time basis when his loan deal expires at the end of the season. The Czech Republic international joined The Hammers from Spartak Moscow in January and, following an acclimatisation period, made his first Premier League appearance on Sunday when starting the 1-0 win over Manchester City.

After being discarded by his Russian employers, Kovac has no desire to return to Spartak and the 29-year-old is instead determined to earn a longer stay at Upton Park. "I do not want to return," Kovac told Sovetsky Sport. "Hopefully West Ham will take up the option to buy me. Perhaps in my career it is time that something changed. The English Premier League is a step forward. I have not once thought about continuing my career in Europe but the first step towards the separation was not me, it was Spartak. The leaders made it clear that they did not trust me and offered to find a new team. I did not want to leave Spartak."

Reflecting on his arrival in London, Kovac added: "At first I felt like an inexperienced newcomer, I did not know the characteristics of the game. But now I am myself, I am comfortable." Fellow midfielder Jack Collison reckons the club are in the middle of a ‘massive week’ for their Euro pean ambitions. At present, sixth place will earn a Europa League place next season although seventh, where United currently sit, could also be enough if the stars align favourably. "City are around us and so are Wigan," noted Collison. "We must go out and get another three points to consolidate our position."

Gianfranco Zola certainly has his sights trained on playing European football next season following United's first victory in a month. Collison's volleyed winner against City on Sunday leaves the Hammers well placed and to possibly dust off their passports. "It wasn't just me, I think many people were thinking about it in the back of their minds," Zola said. "We were playing well but not getting results. But I'm a positive person and the players I have make me positive; I was confident we were going to pick up a game. I always look up the table, not down. I always try to focus not on my problems but on the good things that can happen to me. Now we are seventh and we are going to try and stay there as long as possible. If the combinations [of results] are right for us we could go into Europe. We are going to be fighting to keep this spot."

United's chances of featuring in European club competition next season have already been enhanced by Manchester United's penalty shootout defeat of Tottenham in the Carling Cup final at Wembley. If the result had gone the other way then Tottenham would have taken one of the three places allocated to English clubs in next season's reformatted Europa League, which replaces the existing UEFA Cup. As Manchester United are all but assured of entering the Champions League next season, their Europa League spot will be allocated to the sixth placed league team as oppose to the losing Carling Cup finalists. Now, should May's FA Cup final be contested between two teams already allocated a European spot (in either the Champions League or the Europa League) the third and final Europa League spot would pass down to the team finishing in seventh place in the Premier League, West Ham's current position. As a certain meercat would doubtless say... simples!


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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