West Ham are renowned for producing talent from their academy ranks but Alex Pritchard is evidence that they are not as committed to youth development as they once was.
The 21-year-old midfielder is making waves in the Championship this season while on loan at Brentford from Tottenham Hotspur, but it was the Hammers who had the first look at the Essex-born star – when he was just seven years old.
Pritchard had initially started training with West Ham but he was allowed to leave the club and from there he went on to take his first steps with Spurs.
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Since then the midfielder has developed into a promising attacking midfielder and he has been shipped out on loan to several lower league clubs, including Peterborough United, Swindon Town and now Brentford – which is proving to be his most successful spell.
Pritchard has been a mainstay in the Bees first-team this season, appearing in 39 Championship fixtures, scoring nine goals and claiming six assists. He has also created an impressive 98 chances for his loan club and he is the attacking focal point of Mark Warburton’s outfit – who currently sit in seventh place, just one point off of the promotion places.
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Brentford have been the Championship’s surprise package this campaign having earned promotion from League One last year and Pritchard has been a huge factor to their success, which has led to speculation that he is set for a long awaited chance in the Tottenham first-team next term.
Despite his diminutive stature he is quick, strong and technically very good, which has seen him likened to Christian Eriksen. Pritchard is also a free-kick specialist and has scored an abundance of set pieces throughout his exciting youth career.
The youngster lit up the NextGen Series – a youth version of the Champions League – in which he terrorised a Barcelona team filled with their future stars in 2012, orchestrating and scoring in a 4-1 victory at the Camp Nou. In total he scored eight goals in 11 NextGen appearances.
Pritchard is a huge talent and future England prospect – he has recently been called up to the under-21s squad ahead of the European Championships this summer – which begs the question, why did West Ham turn him away as a youngster?
Fans have disparaged the academy of late, which hasn’t produced any first-team regulars since James Tomkins and Mark Noble broke into the team 10 years ago, and rightly so given that they are overlooking players with Pritchard’s potential.
He may have been very young at the time but the fact West Ham were not willing to commit to developing him into an asset, which he has since become elsewhere, is worrying for a club that used to pride themselves on producing home-grown stars.
It’s now a case of what might have been for Hammers fans, while their London rivals will look to reap the benefits of their negligence by bedding Pritchard into their first-team squad and hoping he has a similar impact as their other academy graduates Harry Kane, Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb.
Do you think Alex Pritchard is going to be a success next season? Is West Ham’s academy in decline? Have your say in the comments section below!