West Brom's home-grown boys ready to take on City slickers in FA Youth Cup semi-final
Mike Scott wants to crash the party. Imagine the interest, he says, in an FA Youth Cup final between Manchester City and Liverpool in the same season they are fighting for the title?
“Let’s be honest, it just looks attractive doesn’t it?” says Albion’s under-18s coach. “That’s the motivation for us, to try to cause an upset.”
Only one team stands in the way of that match, and it’s Scott’s fearless young Baggies, who take on the might of Manchester City next Monday in Albion’s first FA Youth Cup semi-final for 41 years.
“It’s a David and Goliath contest really,” admitted under-18s boss Scott. “They spend a lot of money on their academy. They’ll have international players from all around the world they can dip into and buy.
“We are a local academy, we recruit locally. A lot of the boys who will be playing on Monday are from within a 10-mile radius of the training ground.
“These boys have come through our programme whereas a lot of the big clubs have that luxury of going to buy players at the age of 16 from around the country and the world.
“Similar to the Arsenal game (in an earlier round), you’re almost facing a £15million team. We won’t ever buy a player at under-16 level.”
It may have been more than four decades since Albion last reached this stage of this prestigious competition, but this season’s run is not down to luck.
Lincoln City and QPR were both brushed aside 5-1 before financially superior academies of Arsenal and Everton were stunned by a group of players realising their potential.
“We’ve had the hardest run,” said Scott. “We’ve faced a lot of Category One clubs, and we faced QPR who are doing well in their league as a Category Two club.
“Arsenal are top of the U18s South Premier League, Everton have got a chance of winning the North league as well.
“Now we face Manchester City, who last week won the Premier League Cup. We’re facing all the big teams.”
This group has always had talent, and supporters will already know the names of England youth internationals Morgan Rogers and Rayhaan Tulloch.
They have consistently performed well in tournaments, and have even won a few, but Scott believes the continuity of playing staff and coaches has helped.
Albion have only added two players to this squad since the age of 10.
Defender Pablo Martinez was picked up at 16 after being released by Reading, and goalkeeper Ted Cann joined after being released by Liverpool.
The rest have been honed in the academy since they were young, after being spotted early on local pitches.
“This group won the Truce Cup, a big national competition at under-12 level, ironically against Liverpool,” said Scott.
“That’s why it would be so good to get to the final and face Liverpool, because it’s almost like the end of the journey.”
Scott himself, has also been on that journey. A former PE teacher from Halesowen who joined Albion from Walsall in 2008, this is his first season as U18s coach.
Before this, he spent seven years as lead coach for the U12 to U16 level.
“Seeing their journey from 12 all the way through is certainly rewarding,” he said. “When you see them get into the first team it’s even more rewarding. There’s been continuity there.”
Albion are aware of the task facing them on Monday, particularly because it’s away from home at the 7,000-capacity City Football Academy ground near the Etihad Stadium.
But there’s an underlying confidence in the quality of their team.
“Man City are a good side,” admitted Scott. “We faced them just before Christmas in the league, they had five or six players missing like us.
“We did well to get a draw against them, they will be a threat.
“But out front four is also a real threat for any team to play against. Morgan Rogers has just come back from England U17 duty full of confidence.
“Rayhaan Tulloch is an England youth international, Jamie Soule and Finn Azaz are scoring goals for fun.
“What might suit us is the fact it’s a one-off match. It’s the first time in 40-odd years that the semi-final won’t be played over two legs.”
This Youth Cup run is just part of a wider season of success for an academy that continues to grow from strength to strength.
Sam Field, Rekeem Harper, and Kyle Edwards have all made important contributions in the Championship this season.
Two players from this team, Rogers and Tulloch, were recently handed their senior debuts in the FA Cup.
“It takes time for an academy to grow and blossom,” said Scott.
“There’s a lot of money that gets invested into it, but you’ve started to see the rewards this season.
“This season could end up being one of the best for the academy.
“Getting to the semi-final is a massive achievement, as much as this group knew it was a possibility.
“If you can beat Arsenal, Everton, Man City and get to the final and beat Liverpool, aren’t you the best under-18 team in the country?”
Albion’s FA Youth Cup semi-final takes place at 7pm at the City Football Academy in Manchester on Monday, April 1. Tickets are £3 adults, £1 concessions.