the night is dark and full of turnips (epouvante) wrote in ontd_football,
the night is dark and full of turnips

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nextgen series starting tomorrow...

Aspiring professional footballers usually miss out on the globe-trotting gap years enjoyed by many of their 'civilian' peers but compensation has finally arrived in the form of a glamorous European Under-19 competition. Very much a junior Champions League, the NextGen Series, which kicks off across the continent on Wednesday, features 16 clubs including Barcelona, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Celtic.

Between now and November they will compete in four groups, hoping to progress to the knockout stages in the new year. At this juncture, things deviate from the senior Champions League format as NextGen morphs into a mini, sudden-death tournament likely to be staged in the Middle East – Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha are possibilities – in January.

Liverpool begin against Sporting Lisbon at Anfield on Wednesday night when it is hoped ticket prices of £5 for adults and £2 for children will attract a sizeable crowd. Frank McParland, the head of Liverpool's academy and reserves, trusts such occasions will enhance the chances of more of his proteges following in the footsteps of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. "There's no doubt the boys are going to be stretched, which maybe can't always be said when it comes to more regular reserve football," McParland says. He hopes NextGen will capture the imagination of Liverpool fans facing up to a rare season bereft of first-team European competition.

With not only Barcelona but Internazionale, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Fenerbahce and Marseille among those involved, the technical bar is bound to be raised as Mark Warburton sees his brainchild finally spring into life. Warburton dreamed up NextGen during a previous incarnation as Watford's academy director. "I realised 18- and 19-year-olds needed a different challenge to help them make the transition to the first team," he says.

At the time McParland was scouting for Watford. "Three or four years ago Mark and I often discussed how we could improve and advance youth football," he says. "We used to throw ideas around and say how fantastic it would be to put kids from the biggest clubs in England against the giants of Europe. Now Mark's got NextGen off the ground and it's become a reality, it will only benefit our young players."

Defying widespread economic gloom, Warburton has found investors willing to finance the competing clubs' hotel and flight costs in the belief that payback will eventually come in the form of television and sponsorship deals. With broadcasters already in talks with the company, the plan is to expand the competition to 24 teams next season when Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are expected to join.

In time NextGen could not only widen the gulf between the Premier League's elite teams and the rest but potentially prove a more attractive broadcast proposition than the Championship. For the moment though, it is primarily about rectifying the growing disconnect between the demands of reserve and first XI football.

"We want to fill a void," Warburton says. "Apart from an exceptional few capable of jumping straight into first teams, many promising academy graduates have not been provided with enough consistent high-quality challenges. We think we can avoid wasting talent by helping more young players reach senior level.

"The FA Youth Cup aside, English youngsters don't have enough really competitive games; in many reserve fixtures the result isn't all that important. And our competition has educational benefits too; the players will learn a lot from travelling abroad. They'll be out of their comfort zones."

The exposure to big-match pressures allied to the debilitating effects of frequently flying home through the night are cheered by Mark Allen, the head of Manchester City's academy. "Our young players will now be competing against the best in Europe," he says. "The experience will give them a proper platform on which to prepare for first-team life. We see this as an important chapter in the development of Manchester City."

NextGen rules permit three under-20s to feature in an otherwise under-19 ensemble, an allowance Allen regards as eminently logical. "The average age of a Premier League debut is becoming older," he says. "It's 21 or 22 when it might once have been 17 or 18. We have to bridge the gap and prepare everyone for a better standard of football. And who knows you might see the next Lionel Messi at Hyde [City's reserve home]."

Chris McCart, Celtic's head of youth development, believes involvement confers the additional bonus of increasing his club's pulling power. "We're confident our youngsters' style of play will improve but NextGen should also be excellent in terms of youth recruitment," he says. "We can now offer the opportunity of overseas travel and games against the likes of Barcelona."

Few gap years can compete.

Group One: Barcelona, Celtic, Manchester City, Marseille

17 Aug Marseille v Celtic

31 Aug Celtic v Barcelona

14 Sept Celtic v Marseille

15 Sept Man City v Barcelona

28 Sept Barcelona v Marseille

5 Oct Marseille v Man City

17 Oct Man City v Celtic

19 Oct Marseille v Barcelona

2 Nov Barcelona v Man City

7 Nov Celtic v Man City

23 Nov Barcelona v Celtic

24 Nov Man City v Marseille

Group Two: Liverpool, Molde, Sporting Lisbon, Wolfsburg

17 Aug Liverpool v Sporting

18 Aug Molde v Wolfsburg

31 Aug Sporting v Wolfsburg

7 Sept Molde v Liverpool

14 Sept Liverpool v Wolfsburg

21 Sept Sporting v Molde; Wolfsburg v Liverpool

29 Sept Liverpool v Molde

5 Oct Molde v Sporting

19 Oct Wolfsburg v Sporting

2 Nov Wolfsburg v Molde

15 Nov Sporting v Liverpool

Group Three: Ajax, Aston Villa, Fenerbahce, Rosenborg

17 Aug Ajax v Aston Villa

7 Sept Ajax v Fenerbahce

28 Sept Aston Villa v Fenerbahce

12 Oct Rosenborg v Fenerbahce

26 Oct Fenerbahce v Aston Villa

2 Nov Aston Villa v Rosenborg

9 Nov Fenerbahce v Ajax; Rosenborg v Aston Villa

16 Nov Fenerbahce v Rosenborg

22 Nov Aston Villa v Ajax

TBC Ajax v Rosenborg; Rosenborg v Ajax

Group Four: FC Basel, Internazionale, PSV Eindhoven, Tottenham Hotspur

17 Aug Basel v Tottenham

31 Aug Basel v PSV; Tottenham v Inter

14 Sept Inter v PSV

28 Sept Inter v Basel; PSV v Tottenham

19 Oct Basel v Inter; Tottenham v PSV

2 Nov Inter v Tottenham; PSV v Basel

23 Nov Tottenham v Basel; PSV v Inter


i've read LFC TV will be showing their game for free tomorrow; if you know where to see the other games feel free to tell ;)
Tags: baller babies, club: afc ajax, club: aston villa, club: barcelona, club: celtic, club: inter milan, club: liverpool fc, club: manchester city, club: marseille, club: sporting lisbon, club: tottenham hotspur

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