Even while taking a break from playing football, Keenan Forson – like so many of us – has been enraptured watching it.
The 19-year-old midfielder, now heading into his second season as a fully contracted professional, was one of a small number of West Ham United U23s players to return to training at Chadwell Heath on Monday morning.
With typical diligence, however – Forson is renowned for his tenacious work-rate off the ball – the youngster kept one eye on his development, even while still recuperating from a demanding 2020/21 season.
I’ve been watching a lot of UEFA Euro 2020 as well, watching how top players in my position perform and seeing what I can learn from them
“It feels good to be back after my summer break, seeing all my teammates and coaches again,” Forson smiled. “I’m really hungry and ready to get back to work.
“For the first two weeks of my time off, I just wanted to relax, chill with my family and see some of the friends I hadn’t seen in a while – but in the two weeks after that, I’ve been doing running work and getting touches with the ball to make sure I am ready for pre-season.
“I’ve been watching a lot of UEFA Euro 2020 as well, watching how top players in my position perform and seeing what I can learn from them. I’d love to play at that level one day.”
The youngster is looking to channel all the lessons of his first full season at Premier League 2 level, in which the U23s turned a difficult opening round of fixtures into a triumphant fightback to seal Division 1 status late on.
Forson’s season was something of a microcosm of that fightback, with the midfielder initially struggling to establish himself within the U23s squad and appearing only on the bench until November.
When Forson’s opportunity did arrive, however, he grasped it, making such an impression that he went on to record 17 starts in the U23s’ subsequent 19 games, scoring three times in the process.
“I feel like I learned a lot from last season, and enjoyed the experience,” Forson recalled.
“I especially realised how physically demanding U23s football is in every game, as well as the quality of opposition you can face at that level. When you come up against top teams, you need to know how to use your mind to control your body.
“I also learned about mentality – the motivation to keep going. We were in a relegation battle, which is somewhere we didn’t want to be, but we stuck in there and managed to stay up, so we learned how to stick together as a team.”
The U23s’ fresh pre-season programme is now underway, with Dmitri Halajko’s development squad scheduled to travel for a training camp in Leicestershire in early July, culminating in a first fixture against United Counties League side Loughborough University on Saturday 10 July.
Having taken the time over off-season to be reflective, Forson – ever-keen to progress – is looking ahead.
He concluded: “This season, the parts of my game that I’m looking to work on are just how to better control the game and keep our defence secure – and hopefully, there may be times I can go forward and try get a goal or two!
“For the next couple of weeks, I’m hoping to get in good shape for the start of the season and also keep myself fit. This season, I don’t want any injuries or little knocks – I’m looking to get as many minutes as possible.”