To the delight of many, West Ham’s breeding ground for young players goes by the moniker ‘the academy of football’.

Sadly for those of a Hammers persuasion, that delight is often an excuse to poke fun at the club, as many of the young players who have been nurtured and brought through the club’s academy have achieved very little in the east end.

John Terry, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole
Cole, Lampard and John Terry came through West Ham’s youth system, managed by Tony Carr | Jan Kruger/Getty Images

But in years gone by, West Ham have produced some of the finest talent ever to grace the Premier League – Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe among the names who have flourished after starting off their careers under Tony Carr at the club’s Chadwell Heath training ground.

Now, the Hammers may have a new star on their hands – in the shape of 20-year-old defender Ben Johnson. But who is this latest kid and what’s his back story? Here’s 90min‘s dig into everything you need to know.

Johnson was given a tough first-team baptism – but passed the test | LINDSEY PARNABY/Getty Images

West Ham travelled up to Manchester City in February 2019 expecting to receive another pasting from Pep Guardiola’s band of merry superstars.

That feeling, particularly among supporters, would have increased ten-fold when Johnson’s name appeared on the teamsheet for the very first time as surprise cover for the injured Aaron Cresswell.

The Hammers’ faithful needn’t have worried though as Johnson put in a tremendous display for a player making his professional debut, and were it not for a Sergio Aguero penalty, the shares on the night would have been spoiled.

Ben Johnson, Marcus Rashford
Johnson subdued Marcus Rashford when West Ham travelled to Manchester United in July 2020 | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

One thing that West Ham‘s coaching staff have long liked about Johnson is his versatility.

His debut against City came on the left hand side of defence, but he’s actually a right-back by trade – having been converted into a defender from a flying winger.

Strong in the tackle, Johnson has shown he’s a more than capable defender, and his experiences of playing further forward make him dangerous on the overlap.

Going forward, you’re far more likely to see him on the right, but don’t be surprised to see him flank hopping.

Desai Williams, Ben Johnson - Track and Field Athlete, Calvin Smith, Linford Christie, Carl Lewis
Ben Johnson is a familiar name in the world of sports | Mike Powell/Getty Images

One thing that we should probably clear up is that Johnson is in no way affiliated with disgraced Canadian sprinter, and namesake, Ben.

For those who don’t know, back in the summer Olympic games of 1988 and before Usain Bolt was a human being, Johnson broke his own 100m world record by recording a time of 9.79 seconds in the searing Seoul heat.

It later transpired that Johnson had taken performance enhancing steroids to achieve his time, and wasn’t really the fastest man to have ever lived. Naturally, his name was struck from the record books and he was stripped of his gold medal, as well as his previous world record mark.

Ledley King
Many believe Ledley King would have achieved greatness were it not for injuries | Julian Finney/Getty Images

Johnson may not be related to a naughty Canadian sprinter, but he is the cousin of former Tottenham captain Ledley King

Were it not for a number of crushing injuries blows, King may well have established himself as one of the Premier League’s – and England’s – greatest defenders, such was his imperious presence and reading of the game.

If West Ham can develop Johnson to anything like the talent King was, they’ll have a real player on their hands for years to come.

Jeremy Ngakia
Jeremy Ngakia opted to leave West Ham to join Watford | James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images

Johnson isn’t the first academy full-back to contend for a starting spot in 2020, as West Ham also had Jeremy Ngakia break through during part two of the David Moyes regime.

Many thought the latter would nail down a regular spot in West Ham’s side after some promising performances, but it soon became apparent that he would opt against renewing his contract at the London Stadium.

The Hammers wanted to keep him, but would probably have worked harder to convince him to stay had Johnson not been waiting in the wings to return from injury.

The rest is history, with Johnson a Premier League player and Ngakia now down in the Championship at Watford.

For more from Toby Cudworth, follow him on Twitter!


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