The NextGen Series, a popular youth European football tournament, will be suspended for at least a year due to a lack of funds. The exciting and competitive competition has been very interesting to watch for many fans, and most importantly, it has been very good in terms of youth development. Teams from across Europe that take part in the competition are drawn in a Champions League-style group stage, before going on to the knockout rounds and only one team carrying home the trophy in the final.
In domestic leagues across Europe, many youngsters gain experience at the youth level by playing competitive fixtures against opponents from their own country. One of the many good things about the NextGen series was the opportunities for the players to compete against a high standards of opposition, and experience playing in different countries and stadiums. Some players at the U16 to U23 levels have the opportunity to represent their countries, and of course that gives them an insight into unfamiliar surroundings, but not at the club level. The news about the NextGen Series’ one-year suspension was announced in this statement:
“It is with regret that the NextGen Series has today announced it will be suspending the tournament for one season due to a lack of definite funding.”
“Over the past two seasons NextGen has played a major part in the development of European football and has enjoyed great success with many NextGen players including Celtic’s Tony Watt, Villa’s Gary Gardner and Ajax’s Viktor Fischer progressing to their first teams.”
Many players have spoken about their disappointment at the tournament being suspended in addition to multiple managers. Aston Villa head of youth development Bryan Jones expressed his disappointment upon hearing the news, saying “We’re bitterly disappointed by this and we feel let down.” Jones went on to say that the NextGen Series organizers work really hard in their attempts to secure a sponser for the tournament, but failed to do so before the deadline, resulting in the one-year suspension.
This raises the question of how in today’s football financial climate can this been allowed to happen? It may be that sponsors have not been forthcoming, but why have the club’s not come and made sure this did not happen? After all, with the size of clubs that have been competing these last few years, helping develop their own youth is surely worth what would be a relatively small cost to them.
The first year of the competition, which was held in the 2011/12 season, had only 16 clubs, and they were selected upon the standard of academies and by invite only. The winner’s in the first season were Inter Milan, who beat Ajax on penalties. The 24 teams that competed in last year’s competition were Ajax, Anderlecht, Arsenal, Athletic Bilbao, Borussia Dortmund, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Juventus, CSKA Moscow, PSG, Olimpiacos, Barcelona, Celtic, Fenerbache, Inter Milan, Liverpool, Manchester City, Marseille, Molde, PSV Eindhoven, Rosenborg, Sporting Lisbon, Tottenham Hotspur, and Wolfsburg.
Last season saw English clubs progress right into the latter stages of the competition, which was hosted in Italy, with Aston Villa, Arsenal, and Chelsea all reaching the semifinals. Aston Villa later went on to win the tournament, beating Chelsea in the final with the final score of 2-0. UEFA have reportedly looked into designing their own youth competition, and maybe there is a feeling from some clubs that UEFA would implement a better competition. The suggested name for this league is the “Youth League,” but suggestions and rumors point to the fact that the teams participating in this league would have to qualify for the Champions League at the senior level.
There is no doubt that the majority of NextGen teams have benefited from the competition, as many of them have promoted young talents that have done well in the tournament. In this previous pre-season, Aston Villa had several of their NextGen squad – Janoi Donacien, Graham Burke, Samir Carruthers, Jack Grealish, Callum Robinson and Josh Webb – on first team duty, whilst Gary Gardner and Daniel Johnson have already featured on several occasions in the first team squad.
Victor Fischer of Ajax, Nathan Ake of Chelsea, and Tony Watt of Celtic have also made a name for themselves at first team level, and it is likely this season will see more former NextGen players play first team football all across Europe. As much as it is a crying shame the tournament has been suspended for a year, the most important thing is that the great invention of the NextGen Series will be back next season, and in style.
Written by Ben Armitage