Academy defender Okotcha aspires to emulate hero Ferdinand
If you are a young centre-back, you could have worse heroes to aspire to emulate than Rio Ferdinand, Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini.
That illustrious trio is who promising Academy of Football defender Joshua Okotcha models his rapidly developing game on, though, and the 17-year-old appears to be reaping the early rewards.
Okotcha was handed his Premier League 2 Division 1 debut against Sunderland a year ago, just a few weeks past his 16th birthday, and has established himself as a regular in West Ham United’s U18 side this term.
With 13 appearances in the Hammers’ 14 U18 Premier League South matches so far, Okotcha has played a central role in the team’s encouraging season so far. West Ham sit fifth out of 12, with eight matches still to play, and the teenager is hoping the young Irons can finish strongly.
Growing up, I enjoyed defenders such as Maldini, Nesta and Rio Ferdinand as, as well as having strong physical attributes, they were also very good talkers and organisers which I’d say has also become one of my own strengths
“I think I’ve had a good positive season to this point,” he confirmed. “In the earlier stages I found it quite challenging as I wasn’t getting into the team but I think, through a positive reaction to that setback, I eventually found my way into the team.
“I’d say, overall, the lads are pleased with our current position in the table but I think and believe that the boys want to continue pushing up the table and potentially finish in the top three.”
Okotcha says competition for places throughout the team has raised standards, with the player himself battling the likes of Ajibola Alese and outstanding schoolboy Jamal Baptiste for regular action.
“Personally, I think I have reacted well to the level of competition when I wasn’t getting into the team as it pushed me to also increase my standards to force my way into the team,” he observed.
And perhaps it should be no surprise that Okotcha has adopted such a mature approach to his football when you consider who his heroes are.
“Growing up, I enjoyed defenders such as Maldini, Nesta and Rio Ferdinand as, as well as having strong physical attributes, they were also very good talkers and organisers which I’d say has also become one of my own strengths,” he confirmed, before also praising the influence of two other experienced former players – his Academy coaches Steve Potts and Jack Collison.
“Having people like Jack and Steve around has really helped, not just me but the vast majority of the boys, because they give us real insight into what it’s like playing at the top level and guidance on how to get there,” he continued. “Steve has definitely helped me develop good habits as a defender, such a communication and organisation, as he played in the same position I do.”
Okotcha’s next target is to work with Potts on a daily basis by being promoted to the U23 squad, where he has spent time training already this season.
“The two things that stood out to me in the 23s were the preparation and professionalism,” he observed, again showing his mature approach to his football. “Each individual player has their own way of preparing for a game but I feel like with the 23s there’s a bigger emphasis on knowing your role and responsibility in the team before a game.
“By the end of the season I hope to be a dominant performer in the 18s, which I think will then allow me to get more opportunities in and around the 23s.”