Over the past few seasons, Declan Rice and Ben Johnson have shown that there is a pathway between the academy and the first team at West Ham United – and it’s one that Tunji Akinola will have been hoping to exploit throughout his time with the club.
The defender is highly-rated at the club, having long been considered one of the academy’s brightest prospects, and helped the U23s go unbeaten last season.
Other than a pre-season game against Wycombe last August, first team opportunities have remained out of reach at the London Stadium, however, and he joined League Two side Leyton Orient on a season-long loan in October in search of them.
Akinola’s first taste of senior football has been a positive one and he has featured 18 times for the O’s this term, helping them push for a play-off place.
The 22-year-old has featured as both a centre-back and a right-back, while recently he has successfully fought back into the starting XI after a brief period on the bench.
Akinola ranks among the top six players in the O’s squad for average tackles, interceptions, clearances, blocks, and passes per game (Whoscored) – highlighting what a well-rounded defender he has looked for them this season.
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Even so, it looks as though he could be facing something of a career crossroads in the summer.
Having signed a one-year extension last June, Akinola’s current contract is set to expire at the end of the season and it remains unclear what his future holds.
He’s certainly shown promise in his first season in senior football but it’s hard to argue that the 22-year-old has elevated himself enough in League Two to prove that he is ready to have an impact with the first team soon.
The defender will no doubt want a chance to prove to David Moyes that he is good enough to remain a Hammer, it remains to be seen if he’ll get one.