Destined to be the future of English goalkeeping and an integral member of the Hammers class of 2000, there is no doubt that shot-stopper Stephen Bywater could have gone on to be a West Ham United great.
But, did “England’s future No1” fit his ambitious billing, how did his very drawn-out and bizarre career pan out in the end? And, more importantly, where is he now?
Bywater began his Footballing Career in the Northern part of The Country with Lower-League side Rochdale, remarkably, making his first-team debut at the tender age of 16 in The Autoglass Trophy, now The Checkatrade trophy.
This was when he caught the eye of Hammers Boss Harry Redknapp, who paid in excess of £1 million for the young star.
The youngster bedded in immediately, featuring for the Youth sides and occasionally in the first-team Squad as part of that famous team that triumphed in The 1999 FA Youth Cup alongside Frank Lampard and Joe Cole.
When the time came around for the keeper to make his debut in Claret & Blue and after returning from periods with Wycombe Wanderers and Hull City, it would be one of the most memorable matches in Premier League history.
Bradford City were the visitors to Upton Park in the epic, held in the winter of 2000 and Bywater 19-years-old, a nine-goal thriller which the hosts eventually went on to claim 5-4.
Failing to see much more action in that campaign, the teenager would be sent out on loans spells to Wolves and Cardiff City in the years that followed, before becoming The No1 after Relegation in spring 2003.
The keeper had been part of a revival during the 2003/2004 campaign that culminated in us narrowly missing out on Promotion back to The Premier League, losing The Play-Off Final to Crystal Palace.
But, a year later, our fortunes had changed. Bywater, now with Jimmy Walker behind him as fierce Competition made close to 40 appearances as we reached The Millennium Stadium once again, this time, Preston North End were the opposition.
However, Walker was preferred to start in The Final itself, although this didn’t mean that Bywater did not appear, it just had to be as a late substitute following his teammate’s knee injury.
He held out for the closing minutes with Bobby Zamora’s single goal being enough to fire us back up to The Top-Flight, famously carrying Walker on his shoulders after the game.
But, this was the best it would get for him in Claret & Blue as he found opportunities hard to come by after this due to the signings of Roy Carroll and Shaka Hislop, a year later, he made his loan move to Derby County permanent.
Back in The Championship, the prodigy was able to record two Play-Off Promotions in the space of three years, this time with The rams over West Bromwich Albion at Wembley.
As he returned to The PL once again, Bywater was linked with a call-up to Steve McClaren England having already featured for The Three Lions at U21 level.
However, his season would be nothing short of disastrous, being loaned out to Ipswich Town halfway through after letting in 34 League goals before Christmas and was unable to inspire The Tractor Boys to another Promotion.
Meanwhile, County were Relegated as the worst ever PL team in terms of points total and after initially being favoured by new Manager Nigel Clough, the keeper would soon be moving on.
Loaned back to Cardiff City and Sheffield Wednesday, he decided to stay with the latter of the two clubs, tasting Promotion yet again, this time from League One finished in second place.
However, things wouldn’t work out once more for the keeper as he went on to endure short spells with Millwall, Doncaster Rovers and Gillingham, leading to a 2015 tenure in The Indian Super League with Kerala Blasters.
However, nowadays, he is back playing in The Championship at The Pirelli Stadium as Burton Albion’s permanent keeper at the remarkable age of 36, making him one of the oldest players in English Football.
Bywater’s career thus far has seen him represent 14 different teams up and down the length and breadth of Britain and although he may not have fulfilled his full potential in a West Ham United Shirt, no one can fault his zeal, desire and talent as one of the greats of EFL history.