West Ham hatch new plan to get more Academy stars to follow Reece Burke into the first team

West Ham Dugout

West Ham United have set out a plan to see more young Academy stars follow in the footsteps of Reece Burke and make the step up to Premier League football.

Burke has become the first Hammers youngster to progress into the first team and stay there since James Tomkins came through the famous West Ham Academy back in 2009.

It is a damning statistic for a club that has always prided itself on producing homegrown players for the first team and England.

But since the recent golden generation emerged under Tony Carr, including the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Glen Johnson, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole and Jermaine Defoe, the well has dried up somewhat at Upton Park.

Mark Noble and Tomkins have been the only Academy players to progress into fully fledged first team stars in recent years with another graduate, Jack Collison, seeing his career in East London eventually ended by injuries.

Sam Allardyce has been criticised by West Ham fans for seemingly refusing to give youth a chance during his four year tenure. The same fans say Big Sam has only used Burke because injuries to Winston Reid and Tomkins have forced his hand.

Nevertheless the 18-year-old centre-back's recent transition into the heart of of the Hammers defence has been a breath of fresh air at the Boleyn.

And if the club's new plans to promote youth are anything to go by, he won't be the last.

That's because since the arrival of new Academy manager Terry Westley, the Hammers have reviewed the way their youth system operates with a strong emphasis on promoting players above their age categories.

Speaking to West Ham's official website, youth coach Mark Phillips lifted the lid on the club's new forward thinking.

He said: "Since Terry Westley has come in as Academy manager last summer, we have really tried to test our players as much as possible.

"One of the best ways of doing that is by promoting players above their age categories. The best example is Reece Burke who has excelled since making the step up to first team football.

"Everyone in the Academy is absolutely delighted for him.

"Having worked with him for a number of years, he’s had always had that potential and desire, so to see his hard work pay-off is excellent. It also serves as a massive incentive for all the other lads."

The perfect example of the club's new philosophy in action came during a recent Under-18s match against Leicester. The Hammers kids lost the game but in total used six 14-year-olds in the side.

Phillips added: "You might get two or three in a game but I certainly can’t remember six underage players been played before.

"Looking ahead to next season, it’s got to be the target that these players are regularly featuring for the U18s. If you take those six for example, along with the five or six U16’s that we’ve just secured on professional contracts... we’ve got a fantastic young squad ready to push on next season and compete."

Phillips said as a West Ham fan himself he wants nothing more than to see any team in the claret and blue win.

But he admits he has had to adjust in his Academy coaching role and look at the bigger picture with producing quality players who can eventually make the step up to the first team the end goal.

And he has good news for Hammers fans, saying: "We have a bright future ahead of us and we are working towards it well."

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