With two West Ham United XIs in friendly action on Tuesday evening – and a number of senior players still due to return from a busy summer of international action – opportunities arose for bright young talents from the Academy of Football.
No fewer than six promising prospects made their non-competitive first-team debuts last night, playing in front of West Ham fans for the first time and acquitting themselves well at the Breyer Group Stadium and Sixfields Stadium in a 0-0 draw with Leyton Orient and 2-1 win over Northampton Town respectively.
Looking for the lowdown on the fresh faces you might have spotted? Meet the young Irons right here…
Non-competitive debut: Started vs Northampton; subbed 77 minutes
Position: Central Midfielder
Having been with the Academy since the age of 14, Keenan Forson’s eye-catching first-team debut against Northampton on Tuesday follows on from preceding seasons of strong, sustained development.
The softly-spoken box-to-box midfielder – often highlighted by his teammates – offers in abundance qualities appreciated by West Ham fans: energy, tenacity, commitment… and love for a good tackle.
Having signed professional terms in the summer of 2020, Forson initially began last season out of the U23s’ starting eleven, only initially appearing on the bench until November.
Determined to earn his place in the side, however, Forson grafted to improve and, when it eventually arrived, grasped the chance to cement himself within the side, going on to start 15 of the subsequent 17 league games, scoring three times and impressing with his dynamism.
Non-competitive debut: Second-half substitute (77 minutes) vs Northampton
A versatile player with a high work rate and good technical ability, Tuesday evening’s match at Sixfields marked the first time Bernardo Costa de Rosa took to the field for the Hammers’ first team.
Born in Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian midfielder – who has also regularly played on either side of defence for the U23s over the last two seasons – had been named by manager David Moyes as a substitute in the 1-0 defeat at Sheffield United in January 2020.
Rosa counts the likes of Vasco da Gama and CR Flamengo among his former clubs, moving to England and joining the Academy in his early teenage years.
He has since impressed in a variety of positions in over 100 combined appearances for the U18s and U23s, for whom he continues to progress.
Non-competitive debut: Second-half substitute (85 minutes) vs Northampton
Position: Attacking midfielder
Exciting attacking midfielder Kamarai Swyer only put pen-to-paper on his first professional contrac as a footballer in December of last year, having two months prior made his Premier League 2 debut.
The 18-year-old, who has been with the Academy for a decade, battled back from subsequent injury to make eleven appearances for the development squad in all competitions in 2020/21.
Capable of playing as both a winger and a playmaker, Swyer’s precise passing was a key component of the U18s’ run to the FA Youth Cup fifth round last season as he unpicked Luton Town and Norwich City’s defences with some fine through balls, picking up a goal and two assists.
Although he only featured for five minutes at Sixfields, West Ham fans can expect to hear more about this fledgling talent in the years to come.
Non-competitive debut: Second-half substitute (46 minutes) vs Leyton Orient
Position: Defensive midfielder
A summer to remember for 17-year-old Freddie Potts, who signed his first professional contract as a footballer at the end of June after a breakout 2020/21 season for both the U18s and U23s sides.
Having begun the campaign on scholarship terms regularly featuring for Kevin Keen’s U18s, Potts burst into the U23s team midway through the season, making seven consecutive starts from early March and scoring his first Premier League 2 goal in the process.
A composed midfielder who enjoys getting his foot on the ball and dictating the play, Potts also earned widespread praise for how he acquitted himself on the right-hand side of a back three for Dmitri Halajko’s development squad.
That position has some heritage in Potts’ family, of course, thanks to father Steve – two-time Hammer of the Year and current U23s coach – and brother Dan, a former Hammer now playing for Luton Town.
Yet Potts continues to impress as he forges his own path at the Academy of Football – a non-competitive first-team debut marking the next step in that long-term journey.
Non-competitive debut: Started vs Leyton Orient; subbed 75 minutes
Republic of Ireland U19s international Armstrong Oko-Flex joined the Club three weeks ago. having impressed coaches during a brief spell on trial at the Academy of Football at the end of the 2020/21 season.
Capable of playing on either wing or through the middle, the promising forward showed plenty of his signature pace and verve in his U23s debut on Saturday, winning and scoring a penalty against Loughborough University, following that up with flashes of skill against Leyton Orient on Tuesday evening.
Oko-Flex first moved to London as an eleven-year-old, joining Arsenal after being recommended by former Gunners, Hammers and Republic of Ireland midfielder Liam Brady.
He later joined Celtic in the summer of 2018, being named in his first senior matchday squad as a 16-year-old and making his senior debut in January of this year.
Non-competitive debut: Second-half substitute (75 minutes) vs Leyton Orient
A non-competitive first-team debut for Amadou Diallo at the tender age of 18 will come as little surprise to those who have charted his young career, in which he made his first U18s appearance in August 2017 – aged 14 – and scored on his U23s debut as a 15-year-old in December 2018.
The England youth international is an exciting talent who was forced to miss much of last season through injury, but returned in the second half of the season to make three appearances for the U23s and six more for the U18s.
Diallo’s form in that time saw him called up to the England U19s development squad for a training camp in May, having previously captained England U17s and scored twice for the Young Lions in February 2020.
Blessed with quick feet, pace and an eye for goal, Diallo laid down a marker of intent last weekend with a goal inside two minutes of the U23s’ first friendly: a superb solo run from the halfway line, matched by an accurate finish across goal, opening the scoring in their 4-1 win at Loughborough University.
An east London local who grew up in the area surrounding Boleyn Ground, Diallo cites Mark Noble as one of his inspirations – and will have delighted in sharing a pitch with him for a quarter-of-an-hour at the Breyer Group Stadium.