West Ham United have quite a reputation for producing top-class central midfield players - Martin Peters, Paul Ince, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick and Mark Noble.

Josh Cullen is hoping to be the next to come through the ranks of the Academy of Football and is already making his mark for the Hammers' Under-18 side, who host Norwich City at Little Heath on Saturday at 11am. Parking and admission are both free of charge.

The first-year scholar, who turned 16 in April, has started ten of the youth team's eleven league matches so far, impressing with his sure touch and passing.

"I started off playing for Rayleigh Boys when I was eight and I was scouted by West Ham when I was playing for their Under-10s," Cullen explained. "I was invited in for a six-week trial and it went well. I'm now in my eighth season at the club.

"I have always played central midfield from when I came to the club. I like to get on the ball and influence the game by passing it around. I look up to people like Mark Noble in the first team here. I'm a West Ham fan and always have been, so I'd love to do what he has done. I also like Xavi from Barcelona - he's a real idol of mine."

Cullen, who thanked his parents and brother Jacob for the support they have given to his career, said the West Ham way of coaching had encouraged him to express himself on the pitch.

"We're taught to not be afraid of making mistakes, so we go on to the pitch with no fear. If you are worried about making mistakes then you will never improve or try new things.

"It is about how you bounce back and recover from the setbacks and your strength of character, because you need those things when you become a professional."

For now, Cullen is content to be making waves as a scholar.

"I have been involved a lot considering I am a first-year and a young one at that. I have started ten games and it's been a decent season for me so far. Our results and performances have been a little bit up and down, but I think I've put in some good personal performances.

"I've still got a lot to work on and I will continue to work on improving my weaknesses and see where it takes me. I want to break into the Development Squad before the end of the season."

Cullen, who attended St Thomas More High School in Westcliff-on-Sea, has every reason to be confident in his own ability. The 16-year-old has already been capped by his country, helping England's Under-16s to win the Sky Sports Victory Shield in autumn 2011. Cullen said he enjoys the experience of going away and joining up with the national squad.

"When you are playing with the best players in the country, it's great. It's totally different to when you are at your club because you are with a group of players who you don't know as well as your team-mates at your club. But you all have football in common and you quickly start talking and settle in.

"I know that my form for West Ham will decide whether I get more opportunities to play for England, so I just need to keep playing well.

"We've all seen this season that the club will give you opportunities, regardless of how young you are. West Ham is my club and always has been and I want to represent the first team here."

*This story first appeared in Monday's Official Programme for the Barclays Premier League visit of Stoke City. For details of how to download your digital copy for just £1.99, click here.

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