Albion youngster Antef Tsoungui is relishing the opportunity to be around the first-team squad in Dubai this week after playing his part in the under-21s’ long unbeaten run.
The 19-year-old Belgium youth international is one of ten under-21s with the seniors for the winter training camp which culminates in a friendly against Aston Villa on Thursday.
But while he focused on training and preparation for the Villa game, Tsoungui had more than a passing interest in Monday’s Premier League Cup game when the under-21s drew 2-2 with PSV Eindhoven.
That draw made it 11 games unbeaten for the under-21s against fellow academy sides under Shannon Ruth, who took over as head coach when Andrew Crofts was promoted to work with the first team.
Tsoungui has been a regular presence in the team during that run, something he is pleased about after last season was wrecked by an ankle injury which kept him out for five months.
“If I’m going to get to the next level, I need to get as many games under my belt as I can. [Injuries] in the past have been quite hard for me, but I have played as many games this season as I did in the last two which is a positive," he said.
Tsoungui says the transition to working with a different head coach has been pretty smooth.
“Crofty and Shan have similar methods of playing and Shan is really good at getting into us in terms of improving our performances in training and on the pitch and also on a more personal level. We all know what we need to give him, it’s a good balance.
“The environment around the 21s is so good. There are players in the under-18s trying to take your place and that’s what drives us on and makes us get better in games and training.”
There is a clear step up in intensity in the desert heat this week for the younger players, but they have relished being around the senior pros and training under Roberto De Zerbi.
“It’s a proper learning experience,” said Tsoungui. “You pick up little tips all the time and it’s a really good insight into what you need to do to take that next step.”