Thomas Roberts has the world at his feet after being signed up by Premiership soccer club Coventry City, writes PAUL WARNER. The truly remarkable thing is that he's only nine years old. The former Bicester Colts player was facing the likes of Bardwell Boys and Deddington a year ago but now plays against the fledgling stars of Manchester United, Derby County and Nottingham Forest every Sunday.

The Langford village school pupil will spend a year with the team's youth academy and train with the rest of the squad twice a week at Warwick University.

This could be extended in later years and eventually lead to an apprenticeship with the club.

Dad Tim Roberts, of Merganser Drive, Bicester, said he believed Thomas was spotted by a scout in a game last season at Bloxham.

The youngster then had two trial sessions with 20 other hopefuls before being signed up for a year.

Thomas, a Spurs fan, said he was delighted at being picked: "It's a dream for me. It was quite hard but I played hard at the trials. So far we have just been learning the skills of football. When the man said he wanted to sign me, I was really pleased." His dad said: "The coach was going up to parents saying thanks very much for coming, but then Thomas came up to me and said the coach would like a word.

"The coach then told me to see him after the game and that was it. The coach was impressed with his footballing arrogance and cockiness.

"He has just got natural talent, he's very skillful with the ball and can score goals as well, which is a major asset. We feel very proud of him."

But he added it was important for Thomas to keep his feet on the ground and not get too carried away.

"The football hasn't affected his school work and Coventry do ring up the school to see how he is progressing and that keeps him on his toes.

"It would be a dream come true if he one day played in the Premiership, although we know that is a very long way away at the moment." The youngster was also approached by Tottenham Hotspur and Wycombe Wanderers, but his family opted for the Coventry set-up.

Thomas added: "I'm really enjoying my football although a few of my school friends are a bit jealous."

A Coventry City spokesman said they did not comment on their youth academy players.


The mercurial talents of Michael Owen and Ryan Giggs are probably the most famous to have risen through the ranks to become world-class players.

Both were signed as promising teenagers before becoming first-team regulars with Liverpool and Manchester United respectively. Oxford United have also produced youngsters who have grown into top-class professional:

*Winger Joey Beauchamp played for Oxfordshire Boys before being signed as an apprentice. He had a controversial transfer to West Ham then moved to Swindon before returning to the Manor.

*Midfielder Bobby Ford was spotted as a promising teenager from Bristol and played for United's youth and under-16 teams before breaking into the first team. He was sold to Sheffield United last season for £400,000.

*Mark Wright, recently retired, also came through the ranks at United before being sold to Southampton in the early 1980s. An England international, he went on to play for Derby and Liverpool.

*Martin Keown, another young United star, was sold to Arsenal in the 1980s. An England international, he won the Premiership title with Arsenal last season.

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