With all the focus going to Jeremy Ngakia all but out the door come July 1st, West Ham supporters should look to the four youngsters that signed one-year extensions instead.
Regardless of whether Ngakia leaving West Ham is his fault, the team’s fault, or his agent’s fault, there was positive news for the Hammers and their academy signees. Four young starlets have put pen to paper, all extending one year in East London after key contributions to a terrific undefeated season with the U23s.
Olatunji Akinola – Centre-back
Arguably West Ham’s best centre-back in the academy even including Goncalo Cardoso, Olatunji Akinola stepped up for the development squad late this season and his signing should be heralded as good business for both depth and a potential loan move.
At 21-years-old, the 6’1″ defender says he isn’t modelling his game after any player in particular but finds current inspiration in the play of Virgil Van Dijk, Sergio Ramos, and Georgio Chiellini but also is a big fan of the Italian legend Fabio Cannavaro.
Acting as the team captain for three of the last four matches for the U23s, Akinola is proving to be a leader at the academy level, showing maturity and respect on and off the pitch. Look for Akinola to either get a try out in this shortened offseason or for him to be loaned out for senior team experience.
Alfie Lewis – Midfield
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A player who personally caught my eye in West Ham’s friendly against Dagenham & Redbridge a few seasons ago, Alfie Lewis has maturity and composure beyond his years. The loans of Conor Coventry and Dan Kemp allowed Lewis to step up even more so later in this shortened season, earning his extension.
Over 19 matches across PL2 and EFL development league trophy play, Lewis has racked up five goals and two assists from usually central or holding midfield. His ability to follow up the play and support his forward line centrally makes him a solid box-to-box player.
At just 5’5″ the Englishman won’t be hulking and muscling the ball through the midfield, but strong passing and solid vision make him an asset to the Hammers’ depth. Coventry will likely go on loan or challenge for a first-team position this year so Lewis has his spot etched out for himself in the U23s again next season.
Emmanuel Longelo – Leftback/Left Midfield
One of the most sneaky important players in West Ham’s academy right now, Emmanuel Longelo gets another season of Irons U23 football to prove he’s the man to step up and take a senior first-team position away from a potential transfer target in the future.
Originally a left-midfielder, Longelo has played 12 of his 16 matches this season for the development squad as a left-back. He’s been a key contributor in the team’s undefeated season and solid defensive play. He’s only chipped in one assist this season, so safe to say there is room to improve moving forward, but crossing can be taught much easier than composure and defensive responsibility.
With Arthur Masuaku likely gone this summer and Aaron Cresswell getting older, a new left-back is needed at the senior level. Longelo is just 19-years-old but could prove with extended benches and another season of play that he is the man for the position.
Sean Adarkwa – Striker
Lastly, we have centre-forward Sean Adarkwa who rounds out the youth players who signed new deals this week. Opportunities have been limited for Adarkwa but when given, he’s returned the investment with goals at nearly every opportunity.
This season, the English-striker has played in four matches at the PL2 level but has scored three goals with the opportunity provided. His goals to minutes ratio is one goal every 77 minutes and with the departure of Anthony Scully, U23s goalscoring machine, these chances provided should greatly increase moving forward.
As well, Xande Silva has been plucked by David Moyes as a squad player for the senior team with striker options low. If Silva impresses, Adarkwa has the pending opportunity to assert himself as the next academy star, either pushing his way into the senior team or earning a loan move away to develop further.