LIVERPOOL’S under-19s side will take on some of Europe’s top sides next season as part of a new Champions League-style tournament.
The young Reds, who will be led by former player Mike Marsh, will compete against the likes of Barcelona, Inter Milan, Manchester City, Celtic and Marseille in the new NextGen Series – a six-month competition which will begin in August.
Tottenham, Aston Villa, Sporting Lisbon, Wolfsburg, Molde, PSV Eindhoven FC Basel, Fenerbahce and Rosenborg are the other clubs to have confirmed their involvement.
The tournament, the first of its kind in Europe, has been sanctioned by both UEFA and the FA, and aims to help young academy players make the transition from youth team to first team football.
For Liverpool, the issue is particularly pertinent. The emergence of the likes of John Flanagan and Jack Robinson this season is proof that the club’s Kirkby academy is flourishing. The teenage duo have impressed after being promoted to first-team duty under Reds boss Kenny Dalglish.
And with the senior side having failed to qualify for next season’s Europa League, the chance to give those players, as well as fellow hopefuls such as Conor Coady, Raheem Sterling, Andre Wisdom and Thomas Ince, valuable experience in European competition has been welcomed at Anfield.
The NextGen Series will see four groups of four teams compete, home and away, from August, with the top two from each group progressing to the knock-out stages, which begin in January.
It’s organiser, former Watford academy manager Mark Warburton, believes the tournament will help prepare young players for the pressures associated with elite level football, as they deal with issues such as increased media interest, continental styles of play and benefit from top-level referees and travel arrangements.
Warburton said: “The Nextgen Series will provide a cognitive learning environment for players to experience how best to cope with the pressures of top-level football.”
Young Reds striker Michael Ngoo was on target as England beat Switzerland in the elite qualifying round for the UEFA U19 Championships.
The towering striker gave Noel Blake's side a 2-1 lead on the stroke of half-time in Nyon as he converted George Thorne's free-kick.
And though the Swiss netted a late equaliser, they were stunned as Thorne's stoppage time strike sealed a narrow 3-2 win for England, who now face Spain on Sunday needing a win to make certain of a place in the finals in Romania next month.
Fellow young Reds Conor Coady, Andre Wisdom and Jack Robinson also featured in the game, whilst Thomas Ince was an unused substitute.
Meanwhile the Reds’ new academy manager, and under-16s coach, Steve Cooper says he cannot wait to get started in his new role.
The Welshman was promoted from his role as development coach for ages 12-16 at Kirkby last month, as part of a number of changes at academy level, and says he hopes to play a big part in the club’s future development.
“With the position comes a higher responsibility, but I will relish the challenge," said the 31-year-old. “When you are at a club like Liverpool, you cannot forget the principles it has been built on.”