A YEAR ago, aged just 16, Chris Cohen burst onto the first-team scene at Upton Park. After making his senior debut in a 3-2 win at home to Sunderland, the England youth international was rightly tipped as a rising star of the famous West Ham United Academy.
Although he continues to mature both on and off the pitch, Chris has had to take a back seat in recent months as his close friend Mark Noble makes an impact at first-team level.
But there is certainly no resentment on Chris' part, in fact quite the opposite.
"I'm really pleased for Mark," insisted Chris, who has been with the Club since the age of 12. "We've known each other for a long time and it was just a matter of time before he broke through into the first-team.
"He's put in some really amazing performances recently and hopefully he'll keep his place and continue to push forward. We all know what a great player Mark is, he just needs to keep showing people what he can do.
"He's a local lad and already you can see the fans have really taken to him because of the way he plays."
While Mark's progress has been rapid in the last few months, Chris' own phenomenal rise has slowed somewhat, due mostly to a shift into centre-midfield. Indeed, the 17-year-old has occupied a variety of positions for West Ham, including left-midfield and left-back, where he started for the Reserve team in last night's game against Southampton.
But Chris admits his ideal position would be in central midfield, and dreams of partnering his good friend Noble in the Hammers first-team engine room one day.
"We both want to play in centre-midfield, so it's definitely a goal for us to aim for," admitted Chris. "But I can play in quite a few positions and when a chance comes along to get into the first-team you have to take it, no matter what position you play.
"I'm comfortable on the left and if it means breaking through into the first-team I don't care what position I play.
"But it's Mark who's getting the headlines at the moment, and good luck to him, because he deserves it.
"He's a great football and a close mate as well, so it's fantastic to see him fulfilling his dream of playing in the first-team every week.
"We are buzzing for each other whenever either of us gets a chance. He was really pleased for me when I was playing and likewise I'm delighted for him now.
"We've been on the bench together for the first-team, but we haven't started together yet. Hopefully we've got that to look forward to in the future."
The camaraderie between the Academy players is what makes the West Ham United youth system so special, and the lads are hoping their close-knit squad can bring FA Youth Cup success to the Club this season, with Leyton Orient waiting in the Fifth Round.
"The atmosphere around the youth team is brilliant," he admitted. "Most of the lads have been together since they were 11 or 12 and the friendships that have bonded during that time really make the team what it is.
"I think that's helped us so far in the Youth Cup, when we've had to really dig in and come from behind in both matches so far.
"You can't teach that kind of spirit and it's an important part of the squad. Professionally, you obviously want to be playing at the highest level, but it's just as good to see your friends doing well and achieving their goals.
"That kind of positive atmosphere can only make a team stronger, and in the case of West Ham United I think it's a vital part of the Club."
Cohen Keeps Going