Ajibola Alese spoke of his appreciation of his opportunities to progress as a young footballer, after the West Ham United defender captained the U23s side for the first time on Saturday afternoon.
With last season’s captain Conor Coventry absent from the U23s’ 2-1 defeat to Ebbsfleet United at Kuflink Stadium, 20-year-old Alese – who has been with the Club since he was seven – assumed the armband in his place.
And although the match did not pan out as the Hammers would have planned, with Ebbsfleet dominating the first half and scoring a late winner in the second, Alese could still take pride in skippering a strong U23s line-up in sun-soaked Northfleet.
The England youth international made a solid first-team debut in the 5-1 win over Hull City last season before going on in the Football League to promotion-winning Cambridge United, for whom he made two appearances.
Alese was one of numerous Academy of Football products to travel with David Moyes’ first-team squad to St Andrew’s earlier this month, and played in the pre-season fixtures against Dundee United and Northampton Town.
“I think everything’s going well for me,” the versatile defender told whufc.com.
“Leading on from last season, when I didn’t get to play so many games on loan, to get a good pre-season around the first team, learning from the likes of Angelo Ogbonna and playing in training up against Michail Antonio, is only going to help me really.
“It was my first time wearing the captain’s armband for the U23s and it was good to lead the lads out today. I hope that I’ve earned their respect, and hopefully I’ll show why on the pitch.
“For me, with the U23s, I’d say my role is just to play as well as I can on the pitch, and off it to speak to the lads when I can. I’ve been lucky enough to play a few more senior games than some of the other young players, so I’ll give them advice and help them out when I can.”
Although the nature of the U23s' defeat was disappointing, Alese still feels he and his teammates will have gained greatly from facing Ebbsfleet.
The National League South side were sharp and physical in Saturday’s 2-1 win, with their starting line-up including the likes of Joe Martin – former Academy player and son of West Ham legend Alvin, with over 300 senior Football League appearances to his name – and the unrelated former Manchester United veteran Lee Martin.
That’s what it’s all about for us:... seeing what we’re not doing right so that when the season comes around, we’re not making the same mistakes
Coming up against such experienced professionals at this stage of pre-season can only be of benefit to the U23s, Alese feels, ahead of upcoming trips to Southend United and Crawley Town either side of the upcoming weekend.
Alese added: “Ebbsfleet were very good. We didn’t underestimate them, but they played very well on the pitch.
“In pre-season, we’d rather come and lose 2-1 to a physical team that played the ball well than beat a different team 8-0 and not really learn from it.
“Overall, we didn’t really make it easy for ourselves. We put our possession at risk at times and let Ebbsfleet counter-attack on us. We weren’t high enough the pitch at times, but again, it’s pre-season, so we can learn from it and move on to the next game.
“That’s what it’s all about for us: getting minutes in our legs and seeing what we’re not doing right so that when the season comes around in a few weeks, we’re not making the same mistakes and we’re ready for it.
“We’ve got more games later this week, so we’ll be hoping to put in better performances and continue building up to the season.”