West Ham United’s Academy of Football is recognised worldwide as one of the most successful in modern football and has proved to be more important than ever following the introduction of the FA‘s new Academy system in 1998 which put an emphasis back on the development of young, home grown players.
With such a prevalence of foreign players in the modern era, West Ham United are hugely respected as one of the few Premier League clubs (and in fact, European topflight clubs) to continue to invest in, produce and indeed play, domestic players.
The Under-23 team is the most senior team within the Academy of Football at West Ham. Effectively acting as a reserve side, the team is limited to a maximum of three outfield players and one goalkeeper over the age of 23 in each game following the introduction of new regulations from the 2012/13 season.
The team play in Premier League Two and compete in the Papa John’s Trophy alongside lower division qualifiers. The current Under 23s squad is managed by Dmitri Halajko. A qualified FA Coach, with more than 20 years’ experience in junior player development and coaching, Halajko works alongside Hammers legend Steve Potts with the aim of guiding the youth players to make the step up to the first team.
Halajko began his career with Colchester United, where he spent 11 years and worked his way up to Academy manager, before working for the Football Association as a Regional Coach Development Manager.
Connor Coventry is arguably the most well-known squad member at present; currently on loan at Peterborough United, he made his debut for the West Ham Academy in 2016 at the tender age of 15 years and nine months as a last-minute substitute at Fulham on 22 January 2016.
The teenager went on to make his senior Hammers debut against Macclesfield Town in the 8-0 EFL Cup third-round at London Stadium in September 2018. Coventry was appointed Captain of the U23s in 2019 and made 14 appearances during the first half of the season in their unbeaten run to the 2019/20 Premier League 2 Division 2 title.
Coventry earned his first senior Republic of Ireland cap in March this year and made his third senior appearance for the Hammers against Charlton Athletic in the Carabao Cup. After scoring twice in pre-season for the West Ham United first team to kick off 2021/22, Coventry was named amongst David Moyes’ substitutes for the season-opening 4-2 win over Newcastle United.
Another stand-out performer from the Under-23 side is goalkeeper Nathan Trott, who was recommended to West Ham by former Hammer and fellow Bermudan, Clyde Best. Trott was part of the Young Lions squad that won the UEFA European U19 Championship in June 2017. Trott is currently out on loan at Nancy Lorraine in France’s Ligue 2.
Dynamic winger Armstrong Okoflex moved to East London from Scottish Premiership side Celtic. Dublin-born forward Okoflex began his career with local national academy St Kevin’s Boys Club. Aged just 11, he moved to London, having been recommended to Arsenal by former Gunners, Hammers and Republic of Ireland midfielder Liam Brady. Skilful, quick and sharp in front of goal, Okoflex looks set to have a bright future ahead of him.
Demipo Odubeko joined West Ham in October 2019 and has quickly gained a reputation as a top-class and exceptionally talented young striker. Odubeko was born and raised in the Republic of Ireland, for whom he has been called up at U21s level, capped at U17 international level and won the U16 Victory Shield. He has gained the favour of the Claret and Blue army with his power and sharp eye for goal. His Hammers debut came under the guidance of Kevin Keen for the Under 18s where he netted a goal after just 10 minutes of the game against Swansea in November 2019. He went on to score nine goals in his first eight games for the team..
Odubeko went on to make his senior West Ham debut in the closing moments of the 1-0 FA Cup win over Stockport County in early January 2021. At the age of 18, Odubeko won the Premier League 2 Player of the Month award at the culmination of his first season regularly playing at that level.
West Ham Under 23s currently sit in sixth place in the Premier League Two Division One table just one point off Spurs in 5th after five games.
By Lauren Jayne.