U21s set for Spanish inquisition

West Ham United's young professionals will get a taste of European football when they welcome Spanish side Athletic Bilbao to the Boleyn Ground on Wednesday evening.

The Hammers' Development Squad will kick-off their Premier League International Cup campaign by taking on Los Leones in what promises to be an entertaining night in east London. Kick-off is at 7pm.

Nick Haycock's team go into the game in promising form, having drawn at Fulham and beaten Sunderland in their last two Barclays U21 Premier League matches. The Development Squad manager is anticipating an attractive game against a gifted Bilbao outfit.

"They'll be a technical team," Haycock confirmed. "I've been out to Bilbao on a study visit so I know a little bit about them. They're a fantastic football team, they've got a good reputation in Spain, a great history and a tradition of producing Basque players.

"They only sign Basque players which is a brave philosophy but it works. They work hard for the shirt, so it'll be a tough test but one we are looking forward to."

The Premier League International Cup is a new competition introduced this season which will also see West Ham take on Dutch giants PSV and fellow Londoners Fulham in the group stage. At one stage, it appeared that UEFA regulations may force the tournament to be cancelled, but it will now go ahead with all matches behind held in England.

Haycock says it will offer his players a different but hugely beneficial experience as they continue their path down the road to, if all goes well, becoming first-team players.

"It's a good idea from the Premier League," he continued. "They've worked hard to deliver the tournament. It was a disappointment when it looked like it was off but they've changed it so all the games will be played in England. We can't have the return leg out in Bilbao or Eindhoven until UEFA rubber stamp it.

"If they see the competition working well this year, which I hope they do, then they might endorse it next season. If that happens it'll be a full international competition. If you look at the Premier League now I think it's about 60 per cent foreign players now, so to play more foreign sides on a more regular basis is an excellent idea and something we are looking forward too.

"More important is the fact that we qualified it last season, so we deserve to be in it. It's a nice thing for the players to be involved in. It's also good for the fans and something slightly different to watch."

Bilbao are famed for having one of the finest Academies in European football, with the Club's policy of using only Basque-born players placing a requirement on producing home-grown talent.

The policy has been successful, with Bilbao winning eight Spanish league titles and having never been relegated from Spain's top-flight in their 116-year history.

The club has produced some of the finest players the country has ever seen. Among those to come through the Bilbao ranks are prolific goalscorer Guillermo Gorostiza, the infamous 'Butcher of Bilbao' Andoni Goikoetxea, gifted playmaker Julen Guerrero, towering forward Ismael Urzaiz and current Spain internationals Iker Muniain, Ander Iturraspe and Fernando Llorente (now with Juventus).

The club's U21 side, Bilbao Athletic, compete in Spain's Second Division B Group II - the equivalent of a regional League One - and have made a decent start to the 2014/15 season. Forward Inaki Williams has scored eight goals as Athletic have won four of their opening seven league matches to sit fourth in the table. Twenty-year-old goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga is a current Spain U21 international.

Admission to Wednesday's Premier League International Cup opener at the Boleyn Ground will be charged at £3 Adults/£1 Concessions and FREE to all Season Ticket Holders.