TYLER Roberts’ thrilling finale to the season puts the icing on the cake for Albion’s Academy staff.
No sooner was the 16-year-old back from his debut experience on the first-team bench in Sunday’s Barclays Premier League encounter at Arsenal than he was being invited to join a training camp with Wales' senior squad.
That’s quite a coup for Albion’s coveted young forward as the Welsh are preparing for their huge 2016 European Championship qualifier against Belgium and cannot afford to indulge merely hopeful youngsters.
And it adds to the pride in the Baggies Under-21 and youth ranks about the progress Roberts and his fellow young proteges are registering underneath first-team level.
“I am very excited about the new crop of Under-21s that we will have at our disposal next year,” says Jimmy Shan, Under-21 Senior Professional Development Phase coach.
“I liken them to a few years ago when we had Chris Wood, George Thorne, Romaine Sawyers, Sam Mantom, Paul Downing and Saido Berahino.
“As a group, the U21s is all about game management. We are a developmental Academy and I am massive on teaching and that will never change no matter where I am.
“U21 players could be thrown into the first team or head out on loan and they will need to know how to win games. I think our players have done that pretty well this year.
“We have used a pretty young squad for large parts of the season and they have done superbly well."
Another of the youngsters already making waves, Jonathan Leko, has also travelled with the first team this season, while goalkeeper Alex Palmer followed Jack Rose’s progress and found himself under-studying Boaz Myhill at Emirates Stadium.
This underlines head coach Tony Pulis strategy of opening the Under-21 door to a younger strain of Academy prospects in the belief they will mount an earlier and more substantial challenge for a senior place.
But for those who do not make it to the Baggies first team squad, there is a Plan B which Shan takes seriously.
He explains: “Our results and performances have been very good and we have been challenging at the top of the league for promotion for the majority of the campaign.
“We have had boys come through like Liam O’Neil and also had several boys go out on loan, which is vital for their development.
“That exposure is crucial for them. Kemar (Roofe) going to Oxford is fantastic, as an Academy we see that as a huge success. If we can’t produce players for our first-team, then the aim is to ensure the players have a career in the game.”
Of the boys that were released, two have secured scholarships in USA and the rest are all fixed up with trials for pre-season. Alex Jones has also signed a two-year-deal with Birmingham.
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