21 Nov 1998
Defender Tunji Akinola joined West Ham United when he was just eight-years-old and has long been considered one of the Academy of Football's brightest prospects.
Tall and composed, Akinola is a ball-playing centre-back who was promoted to the U18 squad at the age of 15, has over 50 appearances at U23 level to his name, and who made his maiden first-team appearance in the pre-season win over Wycombe Wanderers in August 2020.
Originally from North London, the hip-hop, athletics and tennis fan names Winston Reid, Paolo Maldini, Pablo Cannavaro and Sergio Ramos as the defenders he models his own game on.
Having made his U18 debut as a 15-year-old against Everton in March 2014, Akinola became a regular member of the youth team the following season, making 18 appearances and an U23s debut against Fulham in February 2015.
The following season, Akinola split his appearances equally between the two age groups - making 16 for the U18s and five for the U23s - and ended the campaign by signing a new long-term contract with West Ham United.
A natural leader, a season as captain of the U18s followed in 2016/17, during which he also featured eleven times for the U23s, crowning another promising season by starting the Premier League 2 Play-Off victories at Wolverhampton Wanderers and Newcastle United to secure promotion.
In 2017/18, Akinola captained the U23s for the first time at the age of 18 in a Premier League 2 Division 1 defeat at home to Liverpool in September 2017, as well as helping the side qualify from the EFL Trophy group stages for the first time in the Club's history, starting two group stage games and the knock-out round game at Luton Town.
Formerly a midfielder in the younger age categories, the defender began to showcase his versatility in 2018/19, featuring at full-back and centre-back as he helped the U23s to impressive wins at Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, before being unfortunate to break his leg in the 5-1 Premier League 2 Division 1 win at Manchester City on 5 January 2019.
A lengthy spell out followed, and despite being named on the substitutes' bench at Old Trafford for the U23s' 2-2 draw with Manchester United in August 2019, it was a year and a day until Akinola played once more - starting and wearing the captain's armband once more as the Irons saw off their Premier League 2 Division 2 rivals 2-0 at the Chigwell Construction Stadium.
The centre-back subsequently helped complete an unbeaten league campaign for the U23s, lifting the trophy with fellow captain Conor Coventry at the end of the season, before heading out on a season-long loan for 2020/21 to fellow east London side, Leyton Orient.