The Academy system in England underwent an overhaul in the summer of 2012 with the introduction of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).
West Ham United's Academy was granted Category One status, placing it in the highest tier of Academies in English football, meaning productivity rates, training facilities, and coaching, education and welfare provisions, were judged to be of the highest standard.
The EPPP has six fundamental principles:
• Increase the number and quality of Home Grown Players gaining professional contracts in the clubs and playing first-team football at the highest level
• Create more time for players to play and be coached
• Improve coaching provision
• Implement a system of effective measurement and quality assurance
• Positively influence strategic investment into the Academy System, demonstrating value for money
• Seek to implement significant gains in every aspect of player development
The Hammers EPPP strategy was spearheaded by Vice-Chairman Karren Brady and Academy Director Tony Carr MBE, with the Board investing more than £1m in helping the Academy of Football to gain Category One status.
The process of gaining Category One status saw a huge amount of hard work done by the Vice-Chairman, Carr and his staff.
The Academy has grown with the addition of a significant number of full and part-time coaching and medical staff.
The facilities used by the Academy have also been improved, with a stadium pitch and three training pitches developed at Rush Green and the installation of a new gymnasium and classrooms at both Little Heath and Rush Green.
Off the pitch, the club has forged a full-time partnership with Sir Paul Grant, the headteacher at the Robert Clack School of Science in Dagenham, whose superb team of teachers will look after all the Academy's educational needs.
These needs include full-time education provision for young footballers in years ten and eleven, and hybrid provision for teenagers who visit the Academy on day-release programmes during the school year.
The awarding of Category One status was the latest step in a rich history for the Hammers' Academy.
Countless players have graduated from it into the current first-team set-up, including James Tomkins, Jack Collison, Mark Noble and Jordan Spence.
Many have played internationally at Under-21 and senior level and all are regarded as fine prospects for the future. Wales starlet Collison aside, all will also hope to follow in the footsteps of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Glen Johnson, Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe, who came through the Academy system, became established first-team stars and gained England honours. Although no longer with the club, they commanded huge fees when transferred.
In the past few years the club have had youth success at a variety of levels, with the Under-19s lifting the FA Youth Cup in 1999.
It is not just about those that go on to greatness on a world stage. Many former Academy players, such as Gary Alexander, Stephen Bywater, Darren Currie, Darren Blewitt, Steve Banks, Shaun Byrne, Chris Cohen, Chris Coyne, Anthony Edgar, Anton Ferdinand, Richard Garcia, Zavon Hines, Matt Holland, Izzy Iriekpen, Danny Kearns, Joe Keith, Leon Britton, Grant McCann, Billy Mehmet, Bondz N'Gala, Adam Newton, Conor Okus, Josh Payne, Stephen Purches, Kyel Reid, Junior Stanislas, Anwar U'ddin, Elliott Ward and Joe Widdowson have moved on to pursue successful careers with other clubs.
But it just goes to prove how youth is always given its opportunity at West Ham United - and, further back, illustrious England internationals like the World Cup-winning trio of Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst plus names like Frank Lampard senior, Trevor Brooking and Tony Cottee underline this longstanding tradition.
You can understand why the staff at the club are all so proud of the Academy. Also at West Ham United, the club has the rare reputation in football - of loyalty, from the top-level management to the actual Academy staff themselves. Players like Steve Potts, himself a product of the youth system who spent 18 years at the club and is now Under-18s manager, are all too rare in the modern game.
West Ham United certainly has the foundations in place, but everybody is aware of complacency and we will continue to look and listen for new ideas to further enhance the Academy set-up. Hopefully, the junior members of our Academy will progress and develop within the system into fine young men and hopefully the next generation of first-team stars.
It is enshrined in Hammers' history that, regardless of the club's status at any given time, it has never sacrificed its long-held football principles. Behind all of this devotion to the 'West Ham way' is the firm commitment to the Academy system, which is going from strength to strength under the guidance of Carr. While results do matter to a degree at youth level, key to everything is the focus on individual development.
The incentives are there for all to believe they can succeed whenever they pull on the claret and blue shirt.