Cheye Alexander is proof that patience and hard work are rewarded.

The young right-back was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter disease - an irritation of the patellar ligament that causes acute pain in the knees. Now approaching his 18th birthday in January, Alexander experienced a growth spurt during his final year as a schoolboy - a common cause for the condition.

The second-year scholar spent virtually the whole of last season playing through pain for the Hammers' Under-16 side. Now, after a frustrating year, Alexander has forced his way into the club's Barclays U18 Premier League side and he is looking forward to a productive and pain-free future and eyeing his first professional contract.

"I didn't feature in the first three or four games but then I got my chance to start and I've taken it, starting the last three league matches," said Alexander. "I think I've done quite well. I've just got to keep pushing on and working hard and hopefully I'll get my pro contract at the end of the year.

"I've been working hard and got my chance and I think I've performed well. If I hadn't then I wouldn't have kept my place.

"Last year was hard and I wondered whether I would get to where I have now. There was always a thought in the back of my head whether I would make it back, but I feel good and I've just got to keep going now.

"I've still got the Osgood's, but it's going now. Last season I was smaller than everyone else and the coaching staff didn't think I was physically ready for Under-18s football. The gap was too big, so they kept me down in the Under-16s so I still got my pitch-time and built my strength up from there.

"I now feel a lot stronger and can deal with the demands of Under-18 football. Hopefully I can push on to the Development Squad soon."

Lifelong West Ham fan Alexander has been with the club he supports since the age of seven and believes that other clubs would not have shown the same patience in helping him regain his fitness.

"I am happy that West Ham believed in me and continue to believe in me because I'm still here. I don't think I'd have got this chance at any other club. West Ham have done well for me and it's sweeter because it's the club I support."

Now, Alexander can concentrate 100 per cent on improving his football, rather than his health. An attack-minded right-back, the Canning Town-born player knows he will have to improve his defensive skills if he is to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Kyle Walker and Ashley Cole.

"I think my strength is going forward. I just need to get better defensively. Sometimes it is a mental thing and sometimes it is a physical thing because I'm playing against bigger, stronger players.

"Being a full-back I look at Kyle Walker and Ashley Cole. I know I need the basic technique needed to defend but I also need to have stamina to get up and down the pitch and be fit and strong.

"It's all about defending 1v1 situations and making their left midfielder worry about me as an attacking threat. It's about stopping crosses and putting crosses in yourself and putting the other team on the back foot.

"I've made a couple of mistakes but that is going to happen because I am still learning the game. As a whole, I think the back four is looking strong and we're doing well."

Stoke City