Earlier in the week we heard rumors that Chelsea was among a dozen or so Premier League and SPL teams that had made inquiries to Dulwich Hamlet about 18 year old striker Paul McCallum. My first reaction to the news (like just about everyone else) was to ask "who"? Frankly, I'd never heard of the young striker. I can also honestly say I'd never heard of Dulwich Hamlet. It turns out that the team is sitting at about the middle of the table in the Ryman division one south. It also happened to be where Peter Crouch (of robot dance fame) made his professional debut while on loan from Tottemham. It's not exactly a prestigious league, even by non-league standards. It's safe to say that any young player from that league wouldn't exactly be facing Premier League level competition on a weekly basis. They aren't really seeing Premier League crowds either, as the top attendance figure reported for the league this season is 676 ticket holders.
My next step in the hunt for information on McCallum was to visit the clubs official website, found here. When I brought up McCallum's profile page, this is what I found:
Youth team striker who made his first team debut this season as a second half substitute in the Championship Manager Cup victory over Ilford.
That's it. No Stats, no picture, no jersey number, not even a birthplace. At this point I reached the assumption that this might end up being a lot of digging. What I found is after the jump...
None of the Ryman League or Team websites have any sort of individual stats at this point, so I decided to do some digging through old game logs. McCallum broke through the Dulwich youth team this past October, and has since made 3 substitute appearances to go with his 7 starts. In those 10 total appearances, he's tallied 8 goals without receiving a booking. He also has hit the woodwork on at least 12 occasions, and the three most recent matches don't have a writeup included in the match report as of yet (just goal summaries). This would suggest that McCallum does have a nose for goal, but there isn't much we can really take from that considering the level of competition he's likely to face. He was extremely strong in the FA youth cup however, scoring 15 goals in the 7 games his team played before being eliminated from the tournament. This seems to be where he's caught the eye's of the big clubs, as he dominated in several games against top club academies.
Video for the Ryman division one south is also very hard to find. I couldn't track down a single Dulwich video recent enough to give you a look at McCallum, but I did come across one that give you a look at the Dulwich grounds (yuck) and level of competition:
As you can see, it's a pretty low level of competition (and the pitch is just awful, they've had 9 matches postponed due to pitch related issues this season already). In all likelihood, the competition level is very similar to that of Chelsea youth games, but for an 18 year old that's not necessarily a bad thing.
I did manage to find a few photos of McCallum in newspaper articles (here's an article with a decent one), and by tracking down the listed heights of some of the other players in the photos I'm guessing McCallum stands about 6'2". Judging by several of the match reports, McCallum seems to be a real burner (creating opportunities by outrunning defenders), although it may just be that his competition is fairly slow at that level. The majority of his goals have been with his right foot, and we certainly need right footed players here. He's been playing in a support striker role for Dulwich, much the way Rafael Van der Vaart has been playing for Spurs. With the youth team in their cup run, he appears to have been the center man in a 4-3-3 type system. It's unclear how his passing is, but judging by the match reports I've read it seems he does create a fair number of chances.
West Ham had a previous loan arrangement with Dulwich that allowed them several trials with their youth players, and in December asked Dulwich for the right to get a closer look at McCallum. They were granted the trial, but it has since been cancelled as Dulwich have now received several offers for McCallum (Chelsea are rumored to have the largest offer to date, although no details have emerged yet), and don't want to see the player hurt on trial. Gavin Rose (Dulwich manager) seems to think he's leaving for a big side fairly soon, almost encouraging a team to meet their valuation of the player by saying:
The best thing that can happen to us now is that someone signs him and puts us out of our misery!
Without any sort of fact to back this up, I'd guess that McCallum will likely be a fairly cheap buy due to his level of competition. He's a complete unknown at this point, but apparently has fared very well this year against U18 competition. While he's certainly not a guy to headline the transfer window with, he'd help fill the void at striker left in the youth and reserve ranks by Fabio Borini's impending departure. As long as he's cheap, I'd love to see us take a flier on him and see if the cup run was an indicator of just how much he's improved.