Josh Cullen is proving central to Anderlecht’s hopes of making the Champions League under Vincent Kompany after hardworking midfielder ended 15 years with West Ham for a new challenge in Belgium
- Josh Cullen spent 15 years with West Ham and rose through their academy ranks
- But the midfielder made just 10 first-team appearances amid a series of loans
- Last summer, he received a head-turning offer from Belgian club Anderlecht
- Now Cullen, 24, has found himself central to manager Vincent Kompany’s plans
- Anderlecht are fourth in the table and pushing for a Champions League place
- And Cullen is delighted to have finally found a platform for regular football
Having previously hoped it would be on his doorstep, Josh Cullen has finally found what he has been looking for since moving over 200 miles away to Anderlecht.
During his time coming through the ranks at West Ham, the dream for Essex-born Cullen was to make the first-team, become a regular and one day lead them out as captain.
Cullen ticked off the first but the opportunities to work towards two of his other targets and realise his potential, in the end, never materialised under a number of different Hammers managers.
Anderlecht’s Josh Cullen (right) up against Saido Berahino of Charleroi in a recent match
Midfielder Cullen has found himself integral to Vincent Kompany’s plans at Anderlecht
Instead, after 15 years at West Ham which he maturely reflects on respectfully and positively, it is Vincent Kompany’s Anderlecht who have made Cullen, 24, central to their plans and given him the platform to play top-flight football regularly.
Plotting a renewed push for the Champions League, Anderlecht spotted an opportunity with Cullen, identifying him as someone who can help take them there.
Only a few months into his new life in Brussels, the switch is one that has left both parties pleased with their decisions.
Anderlecht reached the winter break well-placed, fourth in the table, delighted with Cullen’s contribution and value for money after arriving for around £500,000.
He may have been little known to some in Belgium, but Cullen has quickly established himself as a hardworking and valuable midfielder who brings a composure and stability to Kompany’s young side in the holding role.
Cullen spent 15 years with West Ham, rising through the academy ranks, but made 10 first-team appearances amid a flurry of loan spells
Cullen in action for West Ham during a Premier League Asia Trophy match in July 2019
Cullen, meanwhile, now has the sense of importance that he has long craved.
‘That’s what you want to feel,’ he said. ‘Like you’re wanted, be backed by the club you’re at and I felt that from the first conversation I had with the people at the club, the sporting director and manager. It’s nice to know you’re being noticed by a club the size of Anderlecht.’
After shining in the EFL during loans away at Bradford, Bolton and Charlton and aged 24, it was now or never for Cullen at West Ham last summer.
Exactly what was in store for him at the London Stadium was uncertain while the safety of a Championship return was a possibility.
But Cullen opted for the calculated risk of a move abroad after a head turning offer from Anderlecht.
The midfielder celebrates scoring for Charlton Athletic at West Brom in one of his loan spells
Cullen spent two seasons with Charlton, first in League One and then the Championship
‘It was a tough decision but also I knew it was time for me to get out and really kick on with my career and come to somewhere I felt I was going to play regularly which is the most important thing for a player,’ he said.
‘Going hand in hand with that, to have such a fantastic opportunity and one as exciting as this one – to come to a club as big as Anderlecht with huge history and massive ambition going forward, it all fell into place perfectly.
‘It was a decision that was not a sad one. I was excited and looking forward to the challenge.’
Anderlecht’s charm offensive was persuasive and was led by sporting director Peter Verbeke and Kompany.
‘The manager was a big draw, knowing the type of career he had as a player,’ Cullen said.
The Manchester City legend has not disappointed.
He has been capped four times by the Republic of Ireland and is seen with former manager Mick McCarthy following a game with Bulgaria in September 2019
‘When you’ve got a manager who had the career he had, playing with the players he did, working under the managers he’s worked under, helping build my knowledge about the game and where I can improve, it’s like gold dust for any young player,’ the Ireland midfielder says.
‘He is massively dedicated to his job, relentless in the way he works, the amount of detail he goes into.
‘He’s always at the training ground before anyone gets there and always there when everyone else is leaving.
‘He just wants to be the best and that rubs off on everyone around the place. If we’re looking at how we’re pressing he looks at the best examples. So we’d watch clips of Liverpool.
‘If we’re looking and how we’re playing out from the back we’re trying to watch Manchester City.
Cullen competes for the ball with Arsenal forward Eddie Nketiah in a 2018 under-23 match
‘If we’re defending deep we’re watching Atletico Madrid and how they do it.
‘I know and he understands we’re not going to be as good as Man City or Liverpool overnight but he is striving to push everyone to be the best so we’re watching the best teams at that particular phase of the game.
He’s got the makings of being a brilliant manager in the long run and also he’s a great guy away from the pitch as well.
‘You feel comfortable if you need to go and speak to him about anything. From the first few months I’ve had here he’s creating a great culture where everyone is moving in the same direction and all working together to strive to be the best we can be as a group and team.
‘That’s why his ambition, ours as a team and the ambition of the club with the history it has, is to win titles.’
While his prospects at Anderlecht look much brighter and the full reasons why regular chances at West Ham were never forthcoming, Cullen still looks back on his time favourably.
Cullen competes for the ball with Beerschot player Raphael Holzhauser in a recent match
He said: ‘When I was in and around the first team for so long, getting sniffs here and there but not quite the starts or as many games as I wanted, it was frustrating but I only really look back on it with positive stuff to say and positive thoughts.
‘I grew up as a West Ham fan and achieved my dream of playing in West Ham’s first-team.
‘If you’d said to me ‘you’ll play for West Ham’s first team’ when I walked through the doors at Chadwell Heath at nine years old I probably would not have believed you and been over the moon with it.
‘It happened and I’m grateful for that, thankful to everyone at West Ham all the way through who gave me the opportunity and helped me to become the player and person I am today.
Cullen receives treatment after a collision with Genk’s Carlos Cuesta in a December game
‘A lot of people sent me well wishes and that sums up the type of people at West Ham. It’s a good club with good people working there.’
One of those people was club captain Mark Noble, someone Cullen looks up to and used one as a sounding board as he weighed up his options after Anderlecht’s offer was accepted.
‘He was just another person I turned to at the time,’ Cullen explained. ‘He said ‘go and express yourself and make waves in your own career.’
A few months on since he took that advice, it is so far, so good.
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