Interview: Freddie Sears on why he wants to leave West Ham on loan
EXCLUSIVE: Freddie Sears tells Jonathan Clegg why a spell in the Championship can kickstart his career
By JONATHAN CLEGG
Upton Park was silent as Freddie Sears lined up his shot.
The teenage striker stole a quick glance at his opponent, waited for the ball to drop before finally producing a gentle lob.
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His eyes followed the ball as it arced through the air and dropped into the net. But on this occasion, there was no roar from the crowd. Sears did not wheel away in celebration or raise his arms in a crossed Hammers salute.
Instead, the 19-year-old shrugged his shoulders, retrieved the wayward effort and continued the game of tennis he had been playing with local school kids on a makeshift court at the club's stadium.
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Sears was doing his bit for the club's multi-sports access and retention scheme (MARS), which is run with Newham Council and the Premier League, and which saw hundreds of East London youngsters descend on Upton Park last week to take part in athletics, basketball, handball and a host of other Olympic sports.
As a promising tennis player during his schooldays, Sears was instructing the children on the finer points of hitting a forehand, and the former Havering doubles champion appeared to be enjoying this chance to relive some past glories.
But as he took a quick breather after an hour and a half of energetic action, it was tempting to wonder what Sears would give for a similar run-out on Sunday afternoon.
It is more than 15 months since the Hammers hotshot first served notice of his star potential by scoring a debut winner against Blackburn within six minutes of appearing as a substitute.
West Ham legends Trevor Brooking, Geoff Hurst and Billy Bonds were in the stands on that memorable afternoon last February, when the teenager looked set to add a new chapter to the club's storied history of nurturing young talent.
Yet Sears' career has since stalled. Despite a long-term injury to Dean Ashton and the sale of Craig Bellamy in January, the forward has started just four league matches this season and has spent most of the campaign kicking his heels on the bench.
It is a situation that Sears has found frustrating, though he maintains he has not lost confidence in his ability to make the grade at his boyhood club.
"I feel like I'm a goalscorer," Sears said. "It's hard not playing every game because you need a little run in the team to get going, but once you get a goal, your confidence is really high.
"I think if I play a few games, I'll have a chance to show what I can really do."
The search for regular football could force Sears to leave Upton Park next season.
Hammers boss Gianfranco Zola has admitted that the youngster would benefit from a spell on loan and Sears is keen to emulate fellow academy aces James Tomkins and Junior Stanislas, who have graduated to the first-team following stints at Derby and Southend respectively.
He said: "When you're not playing at West Ham, you just want to play football and going on loan is something I'd definitely be interested in.
"Some of the boys have come back after going out on loan and you can see that it's helped - just confidence-wise and just playing in front of thousands of people every week."
The striker was the subject of several loan enquiries this season, but West Ham's paucity of attacking options meant Zola would not sanction a deal.
Now the manager's stance has changed and Sears is already mulling over the possible destinations for next season.
"We've discussed what could happen at the start of next season and I think the Championship is a good, strong level to go and develop your football.
"For me, a London team would be nice - a team from around here. But if you have to go away from home, you live with it. But I think there's some good football in the Championship.
"I've looked to go out this year, but there's not been too many players around and it's been hard for the manager to let me go. But it's hard only playing 15 minutes here and there and there's not many reserve games."
As Sears sends another forehand crashing into the net, it is clear that the extra time at his disposal has not been spent on the tennis court.
"I play now and again with my brother, but not too much these days," he laughs. "It's mostly football, football, football now."
If Sears has his way and gets regular first-team football next year, he might have to put down the racket for good.
Freddie Sears was participating in the multi-sports access and retention scheme (MARS), run by West Ham and Newham Council, in association with the Premier League/PFA Community Fund.