Jamal Baptiste: I felt really privileged to be out there for the U23s
Fifteen-year-old Academy defender Jamal Baptiste became the second youngest player to play for West Ham United U23s.
The centre-back completed 90 minutes in the 1-0 win against Valencia ‘B’ on a memorable evening for the teenager at the Chigwell Construction Stadium.
Baptiste put in a composed performance throughout and helped the Hammers to a valuable clean sheet in the opening round of the Premier League International Cup.
I was the youngest player on the pitch, I was a bit worried, a bit nervous but it was a great team performance
At 15 years, ten months and one day old Baptiste’s achievement has been bettered only by Jayden Fevrier who was himself just 15 years, six months and 12 days old when he made his own U23s debut at Leicester City last season, breaking Mark Noble’s record, set in 2003.
Having helped his team keep a clean sheet and win on his debut, Baptiste was delighted with his performance.
“I felt really privileged to be out there” he said. “Just to get the opportunity and take the opportunity, I thought it went well.
“It was a really good game. Obviously, I was the youngest player on the pitch, I was a bit worried, a bit nervous but it was a great team performance.”
Baptiste was partnered by 18-year-old Harrison Ashby and the two youngsters showed no signs of inexperience against their European opposition, despite a lack of playing-time together.
“That was the first-time that I have played centre-back with Harrison and I thought that we really communicated well, we helped each other, and it was a great performance.
“I was really happy to get the clean sheet; it was one of my targets before the game. I wanted to work hard for the team, and I think that I did that.”
At just 15, the defender is already a regular in the Hammers’ U18 Premier League side and has years of development ahead of him but would relish any further U23 opportunities that come his way.
“One of my targets this season was to get a couple of appearances for the U23s and I’m hoping to be able to do that,” he confirmed. “I just want to keep training with them and playing with them and pushing to get into the team.”
Baptiste looked adept in a starting line-up containing senior Academy players Joe Powell and Nathan Holland and the defender did not shy away from being a vocal presence.
“I want to help and encourage other players, even though I might be the youngest player, it’s not about age, that shouldn’t matter,” he smiled.
If he continues to develop and improve, Jamal Baptiste is likely to make plenty more noise in the future.