Cristian Montano is setting his sights high after agreeing his first professional contract with West Ham United.

The forward finished as the leading scorer in the Hammers' FA Premier Academy League side with nine goals in 18 games. Montano, who was born in Colombia before moving to London as a child, also made ten Barclays Premier Reserve League appearances, netting his first goal in the 3-2 home win over Fulham in April.

The 18-year-old capped a memorable season by winning the Doris Bell Award for the club's most-promising youngster, being presented with the trophy in front of the first team following the final Barclays Premier League fixture of the season at the Boleyn Ground in May.

Now, he has agreed a new deal and is already taking aim at following in the bootsteps of his idol, the former Parma, Newcastle United and Colombia forward Faustino Asprilla.

"It's just a great feeling, I can't describe it," he told WHUTV. "I wasn't expecting it at first, especially when I got injured against Newcastle [United in the FA Youth Cup fifth-round defeat on 3 February], but then I got back in the team and probably proved myself again and here I am. I am looking forward to next season and carrying on proving myself.

"I joined West Ham when I was an Under-12 and since then I've been doing well. I've had some problems with injuries, but now I'm injury-free and I can keep going and doing well and show the fans what I'm capable of when I get my chance.

"I can describe myself as being like Faustino Asprilla, the Colombian footballer who played for Newcastle. The way he runs with the ball and the things he does - I look up to him as well. He is Colombian like me and I would like to make the career he made, or even a better career in football."

Cristian Montano

While international football may still be some way off, Montano's powerful and elusive running and goalscoring ability have already been spotted by Colombian Football Federation scouts, who invited him to train with the senior squad prior to their friendly meeting with the Republic of Ireland in May 2008.

"I trained with Colombia a couple of years ago when I was 16 after the season and it was a good experience, training with people like Falcao who have played in the Champions League. It helped me want to play for Colombia even more. That's my country and where I come from originally."

In truth, Montano is modest about his own ability, but is confident enough to suggest that he sees his long-term future at the Boleyn Ground.

Citing fellow Academy graduate Zavon Hines as an example to follow, the teenager is keen to catch the eye of new manager Avram Grant when pre-season training starts on Monday 5 July.

Cristian Montano

"I would like to achieve a lot of things. I'd like to prove myself to the new manager because it's a fresh start for everyone. I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing and hopefully he'll see it and give me a chance.

"If not, I want to do well when I play for the reserves and probably get out on loan and have some first-team experience somewhere else, then I can come back and break into the first team.

"I would like to play for West Ham until they want to do something with me later in life, but I wouldn't want to leave West Ham because this is where I started my career and I want to go places with this team."

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