There is a section in the West Ham United match-day programme called Academy Spotlight where players are asked which of their team-mates they consider to be underrated. Without question the same name will always appear: Keenan Appiah-Forson.
“He does so much work, the team wouldn’t be the same without him,” Kai Corbett, a promising forward, told the match-day programme ahead of West Ham’s 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur.
Other up-and-coming prospects such as Dan Chesters, Jamal Baptiste and Bernardo Rosa also firmly believe Appiah-Forson is a talent that deserves more recognition.
The 19-year-old, who has been at West Ham since the age of 14, is a holding midfielder and has been likened to Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante by his team-mates.
There are a few similarities which include Appiah-Forson’s diminutive height, his tenacious work rate and his humility off the field.
Terry Westley was the academy manager at West Ham from 2014-19. He played a key role in the developments of Reece Oxford, Declan Rice, Grady Diangana and Ben Johnson and believes Appiah-Forson could be next in line for a first team debut.
“I left when he was still a scholar but I’ll never forget how committed Keenan was,” Westley tells The Athletic.
“He always listened and wanted to improve. I can tell he’s really enjoying himself and that’s what warmed the staff to him. You could always rely on him to do well.
“Keenan’s small but he’s such a tough boy. He’s similar to N’Golo Kante in terms of his work ethic because he’s so difficult to mark. Keenan has a lot of potential and it’s great that young players are getting an opportunity at West Ham under David Moyes. Keenan could be next.”
While his height may be seen as a possible weakness by opponents, it is often Appiah-Forson who has the last laugh following his tireless efforts in midfield. In the recent 1-1 draw against Liverpool’s under-23s, the midfield trio of Jake Cain, Tyler Morton and Tom Clayton struggled to mark the ubiquitous Appiah-Forson.
When Ossama Ashley sustained an ankle injury prior to the interval, Appiah-Forson adjusted well to the tweak in formation and impressed in a midfield partnership with Freddie Potts, the son of current under-23s assistant coach Steve Potts and younger brother of former West Ham left-back Dan Potts.
While December’s 3-0 defeat at Peterborough United in the second round of the EFL Trophy was a disappointing result, Appiah-Forson caught the eye in his midfield battle with Reece Brown and Ethan Hamilton.
This season Appiah-Forson has shown there is more to his game than breaking up play having improved his goalscoring tally from last season with two goals, against Everton and Blackburn Rovers.
Appiah-Forson, whose footballing idols were Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi, was born in England but is eligible to play for Ghana via his parents.
His team-mates Joseph Anang and Sean Adarkwa, both 20, are also from a Ghanaian background and the trio often joke about who has the better taste in music.
Appiah-Forson signed his first professional contract in the summer of 2020.
Twelve months earlier he gained his first taste of senior football, coming on at half-time during the under-21s’ memorable 5-4 comeback win over Newport County in the EFL Trophy. He was still a schoolboy when he made his debut for the under-18s in the 1-0 away win over Aston Villa in November 2017.
Just under a year later, the youngster, who had trials at Charlton Athletic, Millwall and Tottenham Hotspur, made his under-23s debut against Everton and since then has become a key player for Dmitri Halajko’s side.
Of the 13 matches Appiah-Forson has played this season, he has played 90 minutes on 12 occasions.
The only match he failed to complete was the 2-1 loss at Leicester City in November when he was taken off at half-time.
For West Ham supporters, always looking for signs of a brighter future, there is always optimism that the so-called “Academy of Football” can produce players who will follow in the path of Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe and Rice.
With Halajko at the helm for the under-23s and Kevin Keen the lead coach for the under-18s, the club are nurturing their academy in a way where there is now bags of potential in it.
This has been shown by West Ham manager David Moyes handing first-team debuts to Harrison Ashby, Emmanuel Longelo, Baptiste, Nathan Trott, Oladapo Afolayan, Aji Alese, Mipo Odubeko and Jeremy Ngakia over the past 14 months.
Appiah-Forson’s long-term ambition is to play in the Premier League and if he maintains his form, there is every chance he could fulfil that goal.
“My dream in football has always been to play men’s football professionally,” Appiah-Forson told the club’s website.
“That’s my dream. I just want to work hard, try and stay injury-free, and get as many of those opportunities to develop as possible.
“I really hope to make it into the first team one day. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted and it shows that academy graduates are given opportunities here, so that’s something I’m looking to achieve.”