Comment: Brilliant NextGen series sadly sidelined in favour of Uefa Youth Cup

Ryan McLaughlin has been denied a European role by Uefa

The Champions League is back – with the ubiquitous blue livery, “Zadok the Priest” and, this year, a new bit of razzle-dazzle. The new Uefa Youth Cup, parading its own swishy new typeface and featuring the Under-19 teams of this season’s 32 Champions League group stage competitors, also swings into action today. “The competition has already received its own sprinkling of stardust,” the governing body gushes, reporting Nicky Butt’s role in running Manchester United’s team and the involvement of Patrick Vieira, whose Manchester City players will step out at Viktoria Plzen’s training ground in the Czech Republic this afternoon.

Well, forgive Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish for not sharing the sense of euphoria. Or the young Spurs striker Shaquille Coulthirst and Liverpool’s Ryan McLaughlin, for that matter. These are the young British players, learning their trade away from the bright lights of this season’s Champions League aristocracy, who in the past two years had suddenly found a European stage. It was provided for them by the NextGen series, the tournament which quickly established itself as the Champions League for Europe’s best young players.

Necessity being the mother of invention, some of the competition’s clubs knew a thing or two about running good academies because they simply couldn’t afford to go out and hoover up the continent’s best players. And it showed. Villa won the competition last season. Liverpool beat Internazionale 4-1 at Anfield in a game which will always remain with man-of-the-match McLaughlin, Conor Coady and Jordan Ibe. Talk had turned to how Everton – with their immense reputation for developing young players – would fair when they entered this year. Valencia, Gothenburg and Villarreal were all set to join, too.

None of those clubs’ youth teams will be competing in Europe this season, though. It will be back to stodgy midweek games in front a few dozen people for them because Uefa has – temporarily and quite possibly permanently – killed off the competition.

There was always a sense that Michel Platini’s organisation had been monitoring NextGen, despite offering it official sanction, and last season the founders of the competition –Justin Andrews and Mark Warburton – began hearing noises about Uefa launching a version of its own. The two men sought a compromise, proposing to Uefa a 48-team tournament, with some clubs selected on the basis of their commitment to youth development, complemented by those who reached the last 16 of the previous season’s Champions League.

There were hardly gasps of open astonishment when Uefa rejected that plan and opted to reinforce the European status quo with a tournament for which the 32 Champions League competitors will take Under-19 teams along for the ride, regardless of their ability. The inevitability of the outcome stemmed from the fact that NextGen was beginning to ask some searching questions of Uefa. The tournament’s £8 family tickets were enabling fans to see excellent young players in elite stadiums under floodlights. Scheduling around first-team matches was tricky but not insurmountable, Andrews and Warburton found. There were crowds of 20,000 at some NextGen games – more than on some Thursday nights in the Europa League.

When Uefa rejected the compromise, Andrews and Warburton suspended their own competition for a year. A “lack of definite funding” was the formally stated reason, though they just did not see room in the calendar for two competitions. Throwing a further £2m at their own event, which was shorn of key teams, with Eurosport signed up to cover the competitor as well as them, made no sense.

Villa’s young players are understandably disconsolate about not being able to defend their title. “We’re bitterly disappointed by this,” said their academy director, Bryan Jones. “The competition is one of the greatest development tools for young professional players in this country… and it will be lost to us. It’s shameful.”

Other impressive academies will be in and out of the new competition, too. There are no guarantees for Ajax, whose Viktor Fischer devastated Liverpool in the 2011-12 semi-finals before graduating to the senior side’s No 7 jersey.

Academy directors will tell you that it is the opportunity to get players into the routine of travelling around Europe – the flight, the hotel, the preparation – which they will miss as much as, if not more than, the football itself.

And even those teenagers who are fortunate enough to grace a club which is playing in the new Uefa tournament will find something lacking. Games will generally kick off between 11am and 4pm at training grounds and reserve-team stadiums – a far cry from the environment of playing at elite grounds under lights which NextGen offered, in an attempt to create a learning environment for the players and – as the competition’s name suggests – equip them to make the next step.

Andrews is surprisingly sanguine about this and reluctant to criticise Uefa. “Rather than go up against the new competition we decided to see how it would work out,” he says. “We should just wait and see how people would react to what the new competition brings.”

That reaction may be a loud call to Uefa to bring NextGen and its philosophies back into the fold. Don’t be blinded by the livery and the anthems this week. A little light has gone out across Europe.

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
Paul McCartney backs the
people
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone