ACADEMY director Frank McParland believes Liverpool will reap the benefits of being involved in the ground-breaking NextGen Series.
The Champions League style tournament for under-19s gets underway at Anfield tomorrow night when the Reds entertain Sporting Lisbon.
Liverpool are one of 16 clubs from across the continent to sign up for the inaugural competition which includes the likes of Barcelona, Inter and Ajax.
They have been drawn in Group 2 and face games home and away over the next three months against Sporting, German side Wolfsburg and Norwegian outfit Molde. The top two in each group will progress to January’s knockout stages.
McParland is confident the matches will provide the perfect stage for Rodolfo Borrell’s talented crop of youngsters to develop.
“We’re delighted to be involved in it and it’s going to be a massive thing for our players to play in this tournament,” he said.
“We hope the fans will turn out in force to watch potential stars of the future.
“When our under-18s played against Manchester United at Anfield last season the Kop was full. We had 10,000 people there.
“It was an unbelievable experience for them against a fantastic youth team in front of a big crowd. It meant when Flanno (John Flanagan) stepped up to the first team he had already had a taste of what it’s like.
“These NextGen games will help the kids get used to playing at Anfield in front of decent crowds and against fantastic opposition.
“They’ll be playing against players of the same age, of the same level or better from different cultures and be up against different systems and formations. All that will be great for their development.
“We will also get a lot of data and stats from the games as we’re using ProZone.
“Of course we would love to win it but we’re in it for the experience and for the kids’ development.
“If one player gets an extra 1% from it which helps him to get into the first team quicker then that’s what it’s all about.”
The NextGen Series is the brainchild of Mark Warburton, who was Academy director at Watford when McParland was their chief scout.
When Warburton got the backing needed to launch the tournament this year, Liverpool were among the first clubs to commit.
“It was something I had discussed for a long time with Mark,” McParland said.
“We worked together at Watford and he’s a very forward thinking guy. We used to have conversations all the time about the best way forward for youth football.
“Neither of us thought the reserve league was the best thing for the kids to really progress. In the reserves you sometimes have your best 17 or 18-year-olds playing against 35-year-olds.
“We always spoke about wouldn’t it be great to have your elite players playing against other elite players. We did that at Watford as Mark would take them away to play Valencia.
“This is Mark’s idea and he has run with it. When he called me to ask if we would be interested we signed up straight away. Clubs with good youth policies were invited and we’re getting a reputation for that.”
Liverpool’s side is set to include youngsters like Raheem Sterling, Conor Coady, Stephen Sama, Andre Wisdom and Suso.
To be eligible players must have been born on or after January 1 1993, although three overage players who were born in 1992 are permitted in a 18-man squad. Jonjo Shelvey, Michael Ngog and Matt McGiveron fit the bill for the overage spots.
“It will be mainly our reserves which is largely the under-18s from last season,” McParland said.
“We’ve got a good crop of players who have progressed into the reserves and they will form the basis of the team in the European games.”
First team boss Kenny Dalglish and director of football Damien Comolli are fully behind the Reds’ participation in the tournament.
“The boss has been involved working with us at the Academy for the past two years and has been very supportive,” he added.
“Damien has massive experience at youth level football and from the start he was really excited by the project.
“He understands what we need to do to get the players to the next level. They can both really see the benefits.”
There are some big names absent with the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Manchester United not playing in the NextGen Series.
However, McParland believes it will go from strength to strength over the coming years.
“Some clubs were a bit lukewarm about it to start with but since they’ve seen some of the massive clubs sign up they’ve wanted to be involved,” he said.
“The organisers have had to turn some clubs down. It’s an invitational tournament but the FA and UEFA have endorsed it. This is the first year and interest in it will escalate.
“We’ve been getting requests from scouts across the country to come and watch the games.”
Tomorrow night’s game kicks off at 7pm and tickets can be bought on the Kop turnstiles priced £5 for adults and £2 for children. McParland is anticipating a mouthwatering clash.
“Sporting have an unbelievable youth policy and one of the best academies in the world,” he said.
“They have brought through players like Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani.
We know they will come and attack us and it will be great for our young kids to pit their wits against them.”
TO find out more about the NextGen Series log on to: www.nextgenseries.com