Olatunji Akinola: I want to make an impact with West Ham U23s

Olatunji Akinola

West Ham United U23s defender Olatunji Akinola is back in action with a point to prove.

The 21-year-old centre-back, who assumed the U23s’ captain’s armband against Reading last month following Conor Coventry’s loan move to Lincoln, is keen to make his mark now that he is back playing regularly with the development squad.

Having joined the Academy of Football at just eight years of age, Akinola played his first U18s football at 15, and, two years later, was playing regular Premier League 2 football, but suffered a serious long-term injury which ruled him out of action for the entirety of 2019.

The U23s have seen a number of their regular squad members depart on loan to Football League clubs this month, progressing themselves with valuable professional football experience which, simultaneously, will grant younger Hammers the chance to step up in their stead.

With over 50 appearances at Premier League 2 level to his name already, Akinola is therefore looking to utilise his significant experience to make an impact both on and off the pitch following his successful return to the squad last month.

“As I’m more of the one experienced at this level, I just want to have as big an impact as I can on the rest of the boys,” Akinola explained, “especially the younger ones coming in now that we’ve had a few go on loan. 

“I know the likes of Amadou [Diallo], Jamal [Baptiste], and lots of others, they’re going to have a more prominent role towards the end of the season. 

“My hope is that I can just coach them with little bits where I went wrong at that age and just help them feel more comfortable in the team so that we can keep our run of form going.”

The title-chasing Hammers have travelled to the north east this weekend to take on bottom-of-the-table Sunderland U23s at the Academy of Light on Sunday afternoon.

I’m not really one to get frustrated, because I’m happy for them. I know it’s deserved. My only thing was that, I hoped when I was back fit, I could contribute to that as well

Olatunji Akinola

While Sunderland have picked up just a solitary point from their fifteen games so far, West Ham have dropped points in only three of theirs, and could return to the top of Premier League 2 Division 2 should they claim three points on Wearside.

Despite Akinola’s injury ruling him out of much of the first half of the campaign, the centre-back has experienced first-hand the impact that U23s Lead Coach Dmitri Halajko has made since his arrival last summer.

“Since Dmitri came in, the style of play has completely changed and it’s so good to watch,” Akinola observed. 

“I know the levels of talent that are in the changing room, so I knew what they were capable of doing, but to actually see them execute it every game was very nice to watch. 

“For me, I’m not really one to get frustrated, because I’m happy for them. I know it’s deserved. My only thing was that, I hoped when I was back fit, I could contribute to that as well and keep their run going.”

Akinola also leant praise to Halajko and Assistant Coach Steve Potts for continuing to incorporate him in their planning during his lengthy lay-off.

“Even when I was out, I felt Dmitri and Steve kept me so involved with it, so any time they had meetings before a game they asked me to come in,” Akinola said.

“They’ve always kept me involved and, while I was just coming back from the injury, at the start I was only allowed to do non-contact training, but they adapted the sessions so that I could be involved. 

“They’ve been very good to me individually and as I’ve come back into the team now, I really like the sessions. They’re so well thought-out and detailed so they’re geared towards our next game, so I’m really enjoying working with them.”

West Ham United U23s against Sunderland U23s kicks-off at 12noon on Sunday. You can follow all the action with our live blog on whufc.com.

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