After a decade where relatively few young players made the transition from the academy to the full team, suddenly West Ham have more rising talents than the squad can handle! As last week's clash with Juventus demonstrated, Slaven Bilic has a host of younger players hovering on the margins of the first team and is working hard to find ways to facilitate their continuing development.
Twenty year old central midfielder Josh Cullen is one such talent. Having won the Dylan Tombides Award for academy player of the season in 2013-14, he notched up three appearances in last year's Europa League campaign before making his Premiership debut in last season's 3-0 thrashing of Liverpool at Anfield.
Since then opportunities have been hard to find in Slaven Bilic's set up and he enjoyed a highly successful 4 months loan period at Bradford last season playing in 15 games. His good form continues and he did not look out of place against a star-studded Juventus last weekend. With competition for first team places so intense at West ham right now, he has returned on a five month loan to Bradford.
Cullen made his second debut for the Bantams yesterday and was singled out for particular praise for his "outstanding" performance throughout. The official Bradford City report went on to highlight a moment in the second half when Cullen produced "a Zidane-esque spin which was even applauded by the home crowd; it summed up a real eye catching display in central midfield".
Happy days for young Cullen but where to next for him and the growing band of emerging talents at West Ham - Oxford, Burke, Page, Samuelsen, Fletcher, Quina....and the list goes on! Superslav will certainly have his work cut out to keep everybody happy but it's worth recalling that his promise to put more emphasis on developing younger talent (than his ultra conservative predecessor) was one of the key attributes cited in Bilic becoming West Ham manager. The experience of Slaven and his backroom team with the Croatian U21 team should equip him to manage all these riches.
However, for Cullen the option of game time in the Europa League and Cup competitions has been put aside in favour of League Two experience with Stuart McCall's Bradford City. At 20 he still has plenty of time to get back into the West Ham set up and also will be hoping to graduate from the Republic of Ireland U21 side to the full squad as Martin O'Neill looks to build for the next World Cup campaign.
Keep it up young man!