The new and exciting ‘NextGen’ football series showcases the next generation of talent across Europe and is seen as the sports best kept secret.
The tournament focuses on youth players, in particular under 19’s and is currently in its’ inaugural year. It has been a big hit; providing youngsters with a chance to compete on the big stage. The competition is also seen to ‘fill a gap’ as younger players are not able to achieve the right experience unless they are able to go out on loan, even then it is under difficult circumstances and don’t have the required time to fit in.
The tournament currently contains 16 teams, including the likes of Barcelona, Liverpool, Ajax and eventual winners Inter Milan. It’s not the most teams in the world, but being in the early stages of this project they firmly believe the series will continue to grow. Evidence of this was shown by the two newest clubs to sign up: Chelsea and PSG. Chelsea academy director,Neil Bath showed his delight at their future involvement, he said: “We're delighted to be one of the 24 teams competing in next season's NextGen. We'll be up against some stiff competition but it will be interesting to see how we compete against the top European sides – the experience will be invaluable for the boys”.
The development of the programme has enabled youth players to prepare for the challenges that they may face should they progress to the first team. These could include 2 matches within a week or having to acclimatize within a couple of days of playing away from home.
One of the co-founders of the series, Mark Warburton who was previously academy director at Watford said “The boys needed a different type of challenge. I ended up taking the under-18s to Inter Milan, Valencia, Sporting Lisbon, and many of those boys are now professionals on the Watford first team or Football League and they always talk about those games. Whenever I visited those academies everyone reported back that there was a void: there was fantastic academy work until age 18, but then what was there between the academy and the first team? I'm thinking I'm at Watford and I've got problems, here's Inter Milan, Sporting, Valencia, Ajax, all with the same problem. We asked some private investors to come in. It's been three years in the making, to do something different – there are some fantastic tournaments in the world but they're all at the weekends or just for a few weeks. So we had to offer something more consistent and long-running in quality – can they play every two or three weeks and complement the domestic and European games programme? That was the whole idea”.
As the competition continues to grow in alignment with the players that it produces, I can only see positives coming out of this. I have no doubt teams will be chomping at the bit to be involved in the future and as we have seen with Manchester City, clubs will no doubt start taking precedence over the seemingly boring and uninspiring reserve league. ‘NextGen’ is seen as far more competitive and no doubt profitable.