West Ham fans will still tell you it’s the academy of football, despite some patchy years in that department. Could Jamal Baptiste be the next youth product?
True, before Declan Rice came along, West Ham’s academy hadn’t produced a Premier League standard player in some time. But there’s hope for a number of current youngsters, including Nathan Holland, Grady Diangana and Josh Cullen. And in the next crop, there’s a number of people getting excited about 16-year-old centre back Jamal Baptiste.
Young defenders are particularly interesting when looking at youth prospects because they’re a position that tends to hit first-team level slightly later in life. Whereas a young striker breaking into a side at 18 and holding down a place at 20 isn’t THAT crazy, a young centreback doing the same is reserved for the best in the business.
Whereas it’s technical attributes, which can be developed young, that can push a pacey and creative attacking player into the first-team contention it’s mental qualities that make a centre back solid. Learning to read the game, adapt to your opposition and knowing when to commit or hold, that tends to come with experience.
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So the fact that a lot of people are talking so positively about a 16-year-old centre back who’s training with the first team in pre-season is very exciting. But there’s not too much to know about Baptiste statistically speaking. He’s only made a handful of appearances for the U23 side, and because he has yet to sign a professional contract (you have to be 17 to do so) transfermarkt don’t even have a valuation on him. So, how can we really judge him?
Football London wrote about him last year as he made his debut for the U23 side at 15, in an article that also spoke about fellow prospect Amadou Diallo. They too struggle to talk about much concrete, except for what man on the scene Sam Inkersole saw in some of the matches. But there are positives in the respect that he helped the side keep a clean sheet against Brighton U23’s, and has represented England at U16 level 6 times as well.
In terms of how excited you can be…it’s probably best to wait and see how he fairs in training with the main side. Even if that goes well, I don’t think we’ll be seeing him in the first team squad unless David Moyes channels his inner Arsene Wenger and plays a West Ham youth side in the Carabao Cup.
In my opinion, I hope it’s not this season he’s in the first team mix (barring a massive injury crisis). It’ll be good to wait and see how he progresses because throwing players in too early can have negative impacts. If they perform poorly it can really impact their confidence when they next take that step up, or if they perform well then the hype train begins and you run the risk of another Reece Oxford issue. It’s a genuine lottery.
The good thing is we have recent success in the issue because we’ve brought through Declan Rice, and having him there to talk to and look up to would be great. I hope I’m writing another article in the next 12 months about his first professional contract with West Ham, and the future he could have with the side.