Max Kilman's £40m transfer to West Ham – and the club it will transform


It is a move that will transform the future of Maidenhead United, where the hunt to unearth the next Max Kilman is already underway.

Maidenhead are a part-time, non-League club who play in the National League, four divisions below the Premier League. They have never been in the top four professional divisions. Based in Berkshire, about 30 miles west of London, they are managed by Alan Devonshire, a West Ham United legend and 1980 FA Cup winner. Maidenhead’s affiliation with West Ham has only grown stronger following former academy graduate Kilman’s £40million ($51m) switch.

When the defender was sold to Wolverhampton Wanderers for £40,000 in 2018, Peter Griffin, Maidenhead’s chairman, inserted a sell-on clause. Although he has refused to disclose how much they will gain financially from Kilman’s move, he admits it will change the trajectory of the club’s long-term plans after the centre-back was reunited with Julen Lopetegui. Even a 10 per cent sell-on clause will be life-changing for a club of their size.

“I spoke to Max (Kilman) last week when negotiations were taking place,” says Griffin. “It was no secret he really wanted to move to West Ham. I told him how proud we are of him and how thankful we are that he’ll transform the club. I can’t reveal figures, but all parties have had to negotiate to get the deal done. It reached a mutually agreeable position where all parties are happy.

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Devonshire has been in charge at Maidenhead since 2015 (Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

“We’re part-time in the National League (which is predominantly full-time) and we’ve had plans to go full-time but haven’t been able to do so due to lack of money. We’ll remain part-time this year, but once we sit down with Alan (Devonshire) and the coaching staff, we’ll certainly discuss going full-time next season.

“This is all thanks to Max’s transfer. Not every non-League player reaches a high level like him. We’re so proud and now the goal is to find the next Max. We’ve been a selling club for a long time, so hopefully this money will allow us to keep hold of our star players a bit longer.”

Kilman has signed a seven-year deal and is reunited with new West Ham head coach Lopetegui, who made him captain while manager at Wolves. The 27-year-old became Lopetegui’s third summer arrival following the additions of winger Luis Guilherme and goalkeeper Wes Foderingham.

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Wolves initially rejected West Ham’s opening offer of £25m, to Maidenhead’s relief, for Kilman, but he was Lopetegui’s first-choice transfer target. Last summer, the defender was the subject of interest from Italian side Napoli. Kilman is West Ham’s third recognised central defender, alongside captain Kurt Zouma and Nayef Aguerd, but their futures are unclear. The new signing has travelled to Austria with his new team-mates for their pre-season training camp.

Griffin has been monitoring transfer speculation over Kilman since he left York Road and progressed at Wolves.

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Maidenhead’s York Road home could be improved with the Kilman money (Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images)

“Last summer, Napoli tried to sign Max but Wolves didn’t want to sell him,” says Griffin. “They gave him an extended contract and made him club captain. This summer it was a bit different with Lopetegui becoming West Ham’s head coach. He likes Max a lot and in the last month or so we started thinking, ‘Wow, this could actually happen’. We’re just delighted that it’s gone through.

“Whenever we sell players, regardless of the fee we get, we always add a sell-on clause. We’ve had one or two come off in a minor way. When Max was sold to Wolves, he went straight to the under-23s and within a year he’d made his first-team debut. Thankfully for us, that triggered another payment, so we were ticking off the games he was playing pretty much.

“When you have a former player who goes to the Premier League, that side immediately becomes your second club. The pride you have in their progress is just indescribable. Max has gone from earning a couple hundred quid a week at Maidenhead United to life-changing money.”

Griffin will hold a supporters meeting in due course to outline how the money will be used. Among the list of priorities for Griffin is improving the infrastructure at York Road, the women’s team and the work the club does in the community.

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Kilman in his Maidenhead days (Photo: Mick Vogel)

“We’ve always had plans to do things, but a lack of money has always been the issue,” he says. “This money coming in will not just benefit the first team. It’s an opportunity for us to grow the whole club. It’s a lot of money and we can’t be reckless with it. We’ve been in the National League for seven years and we’re always favourites to get relegated, so hopefully we’ll be able to look at the other end of the table. We’ve gone from a club that’s used to having no money, but this isn’t going to change us one bit.”

Kilman highlighted his journey from non-League to the Premier League in his farewell message to Wolves supporters. The defender made 151 appearances in his six-year spell but had an unconventional route to the London Stadium. He played futsal for England on 25 occasions and had a loan spell at Marlow in 2016-17.

Kilman started his playing career at Fulham for the under-9s, but staff were unsure if he would develop technically.

He was released at under-15 level and his parents, Maria and Alex, consoled him. His father, who died in 2020, would have a huge influence on the defender continuing to pursue football. When Kilman doubted his ability, his father remained confident he would make it. His younger brother Michael plays for Chelsea’s academy and Max tries to be the role model his father was for him.

Kilman had a short-lived spell at Gillingham’s academy before playing a solitary game for Welling United in the London Senior Cup. It was his move to Maidenhead in 2015 that would change the course of his career. Under Devonshire, Kilman showed glimpses of his potential.

“As chairman of the club, I won’t take any credit on the playing side,” says Griffin. “That’s down to Alan and the coaches. We have ex-academy players playing in League Two and League One and in the Premier League with Max. Playing in the National League can be quite brutal, but he did very well. We knew he was a real talent and Alan and his team-mates kept saying, ‘Max is the next one’, but I’d be lying if I knew he would be this good.”

A loan spell to nearby Marlow, further down the pyramid, helped Kilman improve the physical side of his game. The defender developed under manager Mark Bartley and an ex-team-mate is not surprised Kilman has reached the top flight.

“When players drop down to our level, sometimes it can be a culture shock for them because the pitches aren’t great and it’s a real battle,” says Allen Bossman. “But Max didn’t care. The first day of training you could tell he was special. He didn’t shy away from a tackle and all the lads took a liking to him even more after his first day. He got stuck in and there was never a game where he wasn’t good. Every Tuesday and Thursday he was there for training.

“There was one match, I can’t remember who it was against, but their goalkeeper kicked it long towards Max. We’re expecting Max to head the ball, but he brought it down, the touch was amazing, he drove with the ball and crossed it in and our striker scored. Honestly, Max was something else. After the match, we told him, ‘You’re too good for this level’.”

Matt Hobbs, now Wolves’ sporting director after being an academy scout, first spotted Kilman in 2016 when he played for England’s futsal team. Hobbs was informed that he played for Maidenhead and attended a pre-season friendly to watch the defender. Kilman eventually joined Wolves in 2018.

“It’s crazy that the guy I played with is doing great in the Premier League and has been signed for £40m,” says Bossman. “He deserves all his success. I remember we had a training session and Max took this player out. We were laughing because we didn’t think Max had that sort of tackle in him. The player Max took out didn’t even get angry. His response was, ‘It’s Max, I can’t be mad at him’.

“I can see Max becoming West Ham’s next captain and England has to be the next target for him. He can be a top international player. From non-League to England would be the perfect end to his story.”

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Max Kilman to West Ham: The Athletic 500 transfer ratings

(Top photos: Courtesy of Mick Vogel/Maidenhead United and West Ham United Football Club)





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