West Ham United: Could They Have Been among the Best in Europe?

Ricky O'NealAnalyst IAugust 12, 2008

In 2001 Upton Park was home to a group of the most talented youngsters British football had seen—arguably the best since Manchester United's youthful talent in the mid-'90s that included Scholes, Giggs, and Beckham among others.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way something went terribly wrong and today the "Hammers" are an underachieving mid-table side though they once had the potential to challenge domestically and possibly stake a claim in Europe.

So, does the story of West Ham's demise expose a problem in English football?

How can the Premier League truly continue to expand, when smaller teams with great players have no means of growing into bigger clubs?

I have thought it over countless times, and I'm continually fascinated that this team once had those who are today regarded as the top British footballers playing in England.

Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Jermain Defoe, Glen Johnson, and Frank Lampard were all products of West Ham United's infamous academy.

Include players like Di Canio and David James—who signed from other clubs at the same time—and this appears to be a winning formula.

However, West Ham lacked the infrastructure and resources to keep their squad together, and ended up selling their players to big clubs to reduce their debt. So what chance do smaller clubs have of breaking into the top four and Europe, when the rich get richer and the poor get poorer?

That is meant in the lightest sense, considering the millions of pounds so-called "smaller teams" splash out on foreign talent each season. This led me to consider that this might be their most legitimate way of competing with big teams.

Going abroad for talent is the exact answer for trying to turn smaller clubs into more competitive forces. They simply can't afford big players and their promising youngsters get pinched from them.

If that theory needed any confirmation, just look at the recent saga with John Bostock leaving Crystal Palace for Tottenham Hotspur.

This is bigger than West Ham failing to achieve their potential, or whatever financial woes which forced them to sell their best players. I doubt that even at their peak they would have been able to achieve success domestically, considering the relative lack of depth and size in their squad.

It's about the state of British football and the many reasons the Premier League continues to label itself the best football league in the world—but in the long run at what expense to the national team?

I often find myself wondering whether a British club academy will ever again produce a batch of English talent like Man Utd and West Ham once did.

It's sad that it's become the norm for club scouts to jet off around the globe to watch obscure under-15 tournaments to recruit a fresh group of talent. And even in this case is that a bad thing for English football?

Yes, you would have to look extremely hard to find Brazilian teams scouting British teenagers to play in their league. After all Sao Paulo, the current Brazilian champions, have a first team and reserve team consisting entirely of Brazilians!

Surely that only makes it easier for their international squads to be truly at their strongest—so doesn't that make their league stronger, considering how it affects the nation's success?

I would like to think so.

Yet Premier League teams seem addicted to attracting the world's best foreign talent to their clubs, in order to try and increase their success. The example of what happened at West Ham is only the start of the problem.

At the center of why England fail to achieve at international level is the high quality of foreign players in the Premier League, and it will be interesting to see what measures are taken to improve what clearly may become a problem for British football in the long run.