Steve gives top mark to owners’ faith in academy
ALBION’S hierarchy have placed a greater focus on the academy since the club changed hands, according to young talent-spotter Steve Hopcroft.
Owner Guochuan Lai pledged to continue the academy’s good work when he bought Jeremy Peace’s 88 per cent controlling stake last August.
John Williams replaced Peace as chairman when Lai’s takeover was announced while Martin Goodman succeeded Mark Jenkins as chief executive in January.
Hopcroft believes there is more of an emotional investment in the academy under the stewardship of Lai, Williams and Goodman.
“There’s a completely new feel about it,” said the club’s head of academy recruitment.
“Literally, from the chairman to the chief executive, there’s a much more open view of the academy.
“The chairman has been to the academy a number of times. He turns up unannounced, walks around and sits down for a coffee with you.
“It’s a totally different approach to Jeremy. Jeremy was a quieter voice in the background, although I would see him at the training ground for a cup of tea and he was very polite and a very nice man.
“The new chairman will come and ask you what’s going on as opposed to the other way round.
“And Martin is up almost weekly basis.
“There’s more, I wouldn’t say interest, but they are more aware of who people are, what they are doing and the amount of work going on.
“There’s over 30 members of staff working at the academy. It’s an operation going 15 hours a day, six days a week.
“It’s nice that people come and see we’re not a 9am to 1pm operation like some football clubs are or some first-team players are.
“To see the chief executive here at 8.30pm talking to the academy manager, seeing coaches still working, boys and their parents still here.
“It makes you realise there’s a bit of support there other than just financial support and saying ‘there’s the money, get on with it and we’ll see here on an what comes of it’.
“So there is a different feel to it. There’s definitely an emotional investment as well as financial.”
Lai’s former company, Palm EcoTown Development, part-funded the Chinese businessman’s £175 million takeover of the club.
Palm’s connection to the Baggies grows stronger by the week. Earlier this summer the firm was named as Albion’s principal sponsor.
And last week, they announced plans to build six West Bromwich Albion Sports Soccer Towns, each appointed with Albion academies.
Palm leaned on its close association with West Brom, and the club’s standing as an established Premier League outfit, to secure the lucrative contract.
“Our owners are Chinese now so there’s going to be interest in either taking academy teams out there to play or to welcome teams from China over here,” Hopcroft added.
“I think the whole academy at the club would be really open to that. I know academy coaches of ours will be going out there this summer to deliver coaching clinics to young Chinese kids. I think the first aim is to make West Brom the first club kids support in China rather than Chelsea, Liverpool or Manchester United.
“If we can crack that market then it’s only going to be better for us.”