Tony Carr has reflected on a fine season for the West Ham United Academy and the ongoing work at all levels as the club prepares to go again in the search for new talent.
The 2007/08 season saw success for Kevin Keen's reserves and Under-18s as they finished third and second in their respective leagues, and there was good progress at the lower age groups. On an individual level, three youngsters made their senior breakthrough to the first team and Carr said this was the icing on the cake for everyone. "All round from our youngest group Under-9s to the Under-18s, we had quite a successful season and followed in the tradition again of producing homegrown footballers for our first team. It has been really pleasing."
While James Tomkins, Jack Collison and Freddie Sears are the shining lights for the Academy behind the established Anton Ferdinand and Mark Noble, Carr said there was no thought of sitting back and thinking 'job done'. "We are back in July and we start again," said Carr. "Hopefully we will repeat the process and go one better." That process is about developing each young player and even though those that graduate to U18 level start to compete for honours for the first time, team performance is secondary to the individual.
Carr said: "Under-18 level is the top end of the academy. At that point, we play in a league and we play for points and we play in the FA Youth Cup. But ultimately the only thing that really matters is what comes out and the players we produce at the end of the process. We play in a league and we want to win the league, we play for points and we want to win points. We play in the cup and we want to win the cup. That goes without saying. You will never take that competition out of the players but we must never lose sight of the fact it is the development of the individual player which is of paramount importance.
"Below that from the Under-16s right down to Under-9s, we play regularly on a Saturday and Sunday morning and there is no league and no points to play for so they are purely developmental matches. The boys play to win and they get upset when they lose but we don't put a lot of store by winning and losing at that level. It goes without saying that if you are winning more games than you are losing you have got some decent players in your squad. Obviously results do have a bearing but that is not what we are preparing the players for. We are preparing the players for life as a professional footballer in the future."