West Brom form Ace team with ex-Saddler Wayne Thomas
Albion have joined forces with a leading West Midlands football academy as they continue to work to unearth stars of the future.
Ace Academy, which is based in Walsall, is owned by former Saddlers midfielder Wayne Thomas.
Also on the coaching staff is former Manchester United and Villa man Stephen Cooke – a midfielder who was once considered one of the brightest prospects in English football before suffering a succession of serious injuries.
Launched back in 2015, Ace runs Little Aces for youngsters aged between four and seven.
Players aged between seven and 16 can then enter their elite programme which helps youngsters make the leap into the professional game.
Ace currently has around 16 players on its books that are training with professional clubs.
And now – after holding talks with academy manager Richard Stevens and head academy coach Mick Halsall – they have teamed up with Albion to ensure it is the Baggies who get the best local talent they help to produce.
“We’re really excited to be launching this partnership with Albion,” said Ace founder and former Wales youth international Thomas.
“We have already got a few kids into West Brom.
“But we want to make that pathway a lot bigger – it’s our aspiration to really make our mark. We’ve got some fantastic coaches.
“And between me and Cooke, we have got that experience of coming through at professional clubs and what it takes to make it in the game.
“We’re both from Shelfield. I was released by Wolves before being picked up by Walsall.
“And Cooke came through at Manchester United before moving on to Villa.
“But as well as having all that experience we also can draw on what it’s like to pick up serious injuries and the best way through it.
“Cooke always says it doesn’t matter how talented you are, if your quality outweighs your effort you won’t make it.
“It’s the young players who are willing to make sacrifices that make it to the professional game.
“We believe our skills set will give young players a pathway and will allow Albion to nurture the best talent in the region.”
Thomas believes grassroots academies – such as Ace – have a big role to play in the development of pro footballers.
“Everyone develops at a different rate,” he added. “You might have a really talented player but they need to get stronger in a couple of areas.
“We offer one-on-one training. We also offer five-on-one coaching sessions.
“They are specific programmes tailored to the players so they can work on what they need to improve and continually progress .
“And if they continue to work hard and improve they know – with us – they could come onto Albion’s radar.”