For those who are unaware, the 'NextGen Series' is a tournament akin to the UEFA Champions league and is played between clubs in Europe. The only thing is, it is played by the under -19s.
The objective of the exercise was to provide a competitive environment for the up and coming players to showcase their skills at a continental level. The first edition of the tournament was played last year with Inter Milan emerging as the eventual winners beating Ajax on penalties.
The entry to the prestigious competition is gained only by invitation and that invitation is extended to clubs who have excellent academies. 6 top flight premier league clubs are currently part of the competition and they include Aston Villa, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspurs, Manchester City, who were in the inaugural picks, along with Arsenal and Chelsea who joined later on.
We of course would have loved to have seen Newcastle’s U19s go head to head with Europe’s finest but unfortunately the invitation was not extended to NUFC.
I wonder if this is the real reason why Mike Ashley has been stressing on the youth and has been hell bent on improving the facilities for the kids and turning the academy into a top notch breeding ground ala La Masia (FC Barcelona) or De Toekomst (AFC Ajax).
Mike, being a proud man, would have been disheartened when Newcastle were not considered good enough as things stood. He would have seen a missed opportunity on a footballing level, but also on a commercial scale, whereby he would have the opportunity to advertise his own company Sports Direct.
It also brings a lot of good publicity to the club (not that there is ever any bad publicity ;). This in the long run helps with merchandising and brings extra revenue in. A host of other positive externalities may also help the club.
Another possible reason for Ashley’s penchant towards revamping the academy could be creating a conducive environment for all the players to make the highest grade possible and with good facilities, the likelihood of better players making the breakthrough remains high. In addition the crowd likes nothing more than to cheer on someone who has made the grade locally.
Talking strictly from a fan’s perspective, I would love to see our young guns go head to head with some of the brightest talents in European football and I am sure that other fans would agree. It is always fascinating to watch the processes that other clubs employ, knowing what continental players are being taught.
It’s not as if its useless watching the younger players play in their domestic league only but European football is a pedestal higher and in theory should provide a sterner test for the academy undergraduates.