A world-class academy system

The infographic above summarises how the Elite Player Performance Plan aims to deliver more and better home-grown players capable of playing in the Premier League. One of those up-and-coming talents is West Ham United’s Reece Burke.

Reece Burke had a remarkable 2014/15 season. The talents of the second-year West Ham United scholar were recognised with his early-season involvement in the first team.

16 August 2014, Barclays Premier League, West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur

Being involved with the first team, even on the bench or travelling up with them, was a great experience. You get the chance to watch the game live and see the opposition at close quarters. You gain a lot just from watching. That I think was better for me rather than being thrown in at the deep end. Although I didn’t play a Premier League match then, it helped me a lot speaking to senior players. That’s especially true of a club like West Ham, where they have a few local boys like me and it was good to learn from them. It leads you down the right path.

Reece Burke Tackles Christian eriksen

26 November 2014, Barclays U18 Premier League, Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United

Within the Academy we’re encouraged to be independent decision makers. In October I picked up an injury that kept me out for a month. Although I’d been playing regularly in the U21s prior to that, I spoke to one of my coaches and we agreed to return in my age group. That was a good decision. I thought if I was fit enough for an U18s game, then it would help prepare me again for the U21s and then the first team. The higher you are the more difficult it gets. When I became a first-year scholar what struck me was how physically demanding training was. It took me two to three weeks just to get used to the training programme.

5 January 2015, Barclays U21 Premier League, West Ham United v Leicester City

This was my first U21s match since the end of September. Going from 18s to 21s is a big step up on several levels. The game is much quicker, so you have to think quicker. U21 matches are more structured because it’s more important to win. But the U21s are good because there are young players with senior players. Also, practically, the boys are bigger and stronger, and some of them will have a better football brain than you. They’ve had more training and psychologically they just appear older. That’s a challenge to adapt to. I remember one match I couldn’t handle the pressure and it didn’t go too well for me. But that’s when the club stepped in because we have a mental support side of football with the psychologists. After speaking to them they get your mindset back to where it was. If we didn’t have that kind of support to turn to then I would still be in the same situation. The great advantage of being at a club is there is always someone to turn to that will help put you back on track.

25 April 2015, Barclays Premier League, Queens Park Rangers v West Ham United

I knew making my Barclays Premier League debut against Charlie Austin and Bobby Zamora wasn’t going to be easy: here I was, a little kid centre half and these were fully developed top-class strikers. But playing against them was huge for my development. I did a lot of work beforehand looking at clips of them in a few games, learning how to go about playing against them. That’s what we’ve been schooled to do now, work hard not just on the training ground but in the classroom too. You have all this knowledge in the staff and they can help you make the marginal gains.

Reece Burke tackles Christian Benteke

Playing against guys like them and Christian Benteke means I’ve gained confidence in what to do, I’m understanding how they play. But I know I’ve not made it: I’ve been in five Premier League matches and done alright. I wouldn’t say I couldn’t play in the Premier League, I know I can. But I believe there is more to developing myself to play week in week out in the Premier League. The season I have had I have learnt so much. I just want to keep on learning for years to come.

Next article Football Remembers Learning about football and history as part of the 2014 Christmas Truce commemorations Read more

Explore more

A young Arsenal player and his coach The Football

Coaching the best

How a former player is making an impact on the new elite coaching network

Nathaniel Clyne with children from the academy The Football

Nathaniel Clyne: England's got talent

Southampton defender Nathaniel Clyne talks about home-grown players and how investment in Academies is getting results

Harry Kane celebrates with his team mates The Football

Harry Kane: He's one of our own

Watch our exclusive video of Harry Kane on his breakthrough season