Josh Cullen is a young West Ham player on the rise. PDP Editor, Dave Wright spoke at length with Josh about his long journey through the West Ham Academy, the value of honesty and the challenge of being pushed outside of his comfort zone.
Josh Cullen was born in Hackney in 1996. For the first few years of his life, he lived in Bow, East London – a stone’s throw away from the future home of West Ham United, the Queen Elizabeth Stadium. At the age of four his family moved to Wickford, East Essex, about 30 miles away, and it was here that Josh had his first football memories, kicking a ball around his garden with his dad and cousin. A football-mad kid, he would kick a ball anytime he could, “even in the lounge”, he laughs. “It used to drive my mum mad, I was always breaking glass and picture frames!”
Josh played for his first organised, competitive team at Rayleigh when he was around seven years old. His ability with a ball at his feet was recognised quickly.
Like many young players around the greater London area, he was “spotted” after playing grassroots under the guidance of his father. Aged nine, Josh signed for the West Ham Academy, back in East London.
Despite this early exposure to the intense world of academy football and “mainly focussing on football”, Josh did play other sports, most notably, karate and cricket. He explains, “I did play a bit of cricket between 10–16 and also did karate when I was younger. When I became a scholar [aged 16] I had to give up cricket as it all became a bit more serious. When you’re contracted to a club you can’t risk being injured playing another sport.”
He adds: “Karate had good advantages for my overall strength at a younger age and the cricket probably helped me mentally. I felt like cricket really helped me cope with pressure, whether batting or bowling, and that certainly stood me in good stead in football.”
As his academy journey began, he went from the guidance of his dad to numerous coaches. When asked if there were any particularly important influences on his journey, he humbly states “I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out!”. When pressed however, he discusses some of the key figures in his development. “My friend’s dad and my dad started me off. They just put sessions on where we learned the basics around first touch, but most of all just enjoyed ourselves.”
He continues, “When I came into the [West Ham] academy, coaches like Nick Haycock were heavily involved, and Mark Philips – who is still there as the U18 assistant manager – and Steve Potts – who is the youth team manager now – were really important. Steve was very helpful when I was coming through.”
As he has gone on to be a young professional, Josh credits Terry Westley (current Academy Director) as “being very helpful getting me a loan move” and Liam Manning (U23s coach) as someone who “has had a strong influence.” He also credits Greg De Carnys (Head of Performance) as someone who “has been a mentor for the last couple of years and is always pushing me.” Grateful to the many staff who have helped, Josh explains, “I’ve been lucky along the way to have some really helpful people around me.”
In an age where many parents can be seen as pushy in the world of “elite” player development and a dangerous mix of expectation and pressure can be piled on young players early on, I ask Josh to discuss the influence of his parents and how they impacted his journey from young grassroots player, to U23 prospect.
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