Steve gives top mark to own­ers’ faith in academy

Birmingham Post - - SPORT - Paul Suart Foot­ball Writer

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.”

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