Briefly 16 clubs will compete from August through November in a four group four-team basis with the knockout stages being played in Abu Dhabi in January. The Daily Mail summarised the format better than I could:
A Champions League tournament for teenagers. Can you throw a few ringers in?
No, not quite. The organisers want to lay down strict guidelines for the Under-19 tournament but, similar to the Under-21 set-up, they will allow three players over-aged players (no older than 20) to join the squad. The idea is to encourage the use of younger players too, such as 16-year-old Raheem Sterling at Liverpool.
Where are they going to play? In the park next to the swings?
Er, no. NextGen want the tournament to mimic the Champions League where possible. Fenerbahce and Molde want games to be played in their grounds and Liverpool may allow their first match to take place at Anfield depending on pre-season fixtures. Celtic will try to use Celtic Park but Manchester City’s stars of the future will walk out at Hyde’s ground for home games. Playing at smaller venues is seen as a good idea if it helps generate good crowds and provides a good atmosphere.
Why aren’t Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United in it?
Organiser Mark Warburton, who is also Brentford’s sporting director, and his business partners already had good relationships with certain clubs from his academy days at Watford. That has played a part in the initial invites but plans are afoot to bring in other teams from next season if all goes well as they look to expand to 24 teams. As Liverpool, Aston Villa, Tottenham and Manchester City are already in the competition there was a strong desire to bring in more foreign sides to improve the variety of opposition.
So, how often will they be playing?
It will be similar to the Champions League, with fixtures starting from September 15 and scheduled for two or three week intervals. There are four groups of four teams who will play each other home and away. So that’s six games each up until the end of November. The top two teams from each group will go through to a final tournament in January that is likely to be held in Abu Dhabi.
But does this mean the end for reserve teams?
No. Manchester City has stopped playing in the reserve league but it is to tailor the needs of their elite development squad. City academy director Mark Allen said: ‘Far from the reserves going away, it is actually getting stronger and more focused, and what the fans will see is more relevant football for that development stage.’ As Warburton points out it is more to do with consistency of opposition. Some clubs do not want their young players turning up to face a load of first teamers coming back from injury. They believe playing against similar level opposition on a consistent basis is more beneficial.
Can I watch it on the telly?
Negotiations are underway but due to scheduling demands it is more likely to be on an ad hoc basis if at all this season. There may be a deal sorted for the finals. Clubs wanted flexibility with fixtures so that it doesn’t cut across any domestic programme either. Strict TV scheduling would get in the way just now. If the tournament is a success then next year may see more TV coverage.
Won’t it just be a feeding frenzy for the big clubs to lazily pick up the best talent?
It is to an extent but some of the clubs taking part such as Molde and Sporting Lisbon relies on producing good young talent to keep their club alive. They often have to sell and this is an ideal showcase for any talented players coming through. By the same token, if you are young and already playing in a top-level tournament you may decide this club is where you should stay.
What’s the main objective? Money?
The more cynical fans may think that. But clubs have struggled to agree to it in the first place because of the expense of taking teams round Europe and putting them up in hotels. As Chris McCart of Celtic’s youth set-up said: ‘our purpose is to try and develop a Champions League player and it will expose them to that and replicate what that’s like at first-team level. We are confident the players will gain experience, which will be vital to them in terms of the style of play and the travelling. We can also offer players the opportunity of playing against the likes of Barcelona and Man City on the big stage and in stadia, so it’s excellent from our recruitment point of view, too. We have signed up to it for the next three years and we are really excited about it.’
Chris McCart recently declared our fixtures and is very enthusiastic over the whole competition.
“We know the dates and we hope the venue will be Celtic Park,” McCart added, “But it depends on the first-team and their European and domestic cup runs. It will be great for the fans to come out and support the competition.”
Wednesday August 17 Marseille (away)
Wednesday August 31 Barcelona (home)
Wednesday September 14 Marseille (home)
Thursday October 20 Manchester City (away)
Wednesday November 9 Manchester City (home)
Wednesday November 23 Barcelona (away)
From our own web site the squad will be:
A highly-rated goalkeeper who has progressed through the Academy ranks to earn the No.1 jersey at U19 level. The son of former Dunfermline keeper, Scott Thomson, Robbie has also played consistently for the Scottish national team at a variety of levels and remains focused on progressing to the next level.
The Australian keeper signed at the start of the 2010/11 campaign and despite three months on the sidelines through injury he managed to make the No.1 shirt his own towards the closing months of the season. Feely recently penned an extension to his contract which will see him make the step up to the Development Squad after the summer.
Another promising shot-stopper and the current custodian of the gloves at U17 level. James has also been capped for Scotland at U15, U16 and U17 levels.
A product of Celtic’s successful Dundee centre led by Sean Smith, Lewis joined Celtic as a 12-year-old and has progressed rapidly through the various youth levels. After overcoming a series of injury setbacks, the defender has enjoyed an excellent season in the centre of the U19s’ backline – and is also capable of filling in at right-back.
The Manchester-born centre-half arrived from Stockport in the summer of 2009 as a 15-year-old along with Josh Thompson and Michael Ordish. A regular for the U17s last season, Jones has spent a frustrating period on the sidelines during the first part of the campaign.
Part of the Hoops’ youth setup since he was 10-years-old, Chalmers signed professional terms during the summer and made several appearances for the U19s during pre-season, aged just 16. During the current campaign, the defender has continued to impress at U17 level for both club and country.
Another of the Academy’s youth internationalists, the defender was on the score-sheet for Scotland during their recent win over Luxembourg in the qualifying stages for the UEFA U17 Championships. After progressing through the ranks at Celtic, the defender is now a key member of the U17 side and is already pushing for a place in the U19s.
The defender joined the Hoops from boys’ club level at U15 and has flourished since starting his professional career with the youths in the summer. Started life as a central midfielder but now commonly operates as a left-back for both club and country.
The boyhood Hoops fan joined the Celtic Academy at the age of nine and signed his first professional contract with the club in the summer. John is usually deployed in the heart of the midfield and captained the U17s to victory in the Aberdeen International Football Festival in July.
Broke into the U19 side towards the end of last season and soon scored his first goal for the Tommy McIntyre and Stevie Frail’s side in a 1-0 win over Aberdeen, a result which clinched the title for the young Hoops. Since then, the attacking midfielder hasn’t looked back, and his creative talents have seen him become a key player for the youths.
One half of the talented Czech twins, the 17-year-old has already been fast-tracked into a first-team start, impressing at left-back in the 2-2 draw with Lyon in the 2010 Emirates Cup. He joined his brother in signing a new three-year deal with the club at the start of the season.
The Aussie teenager impressed as a youngster in the Victorian League and was soon attracting the interest of A-League teams. Celtic were soon alerted to his potential and, after a successful trial period, the young midfielder joined the Hoops permanently in December 2010.
James has been a consistent goalscorer while moving up the ranks of the Youth Academy, playing regularly for the Scottish national side since schoolboy level. The Celtic-supporting teenager usually plays as the U19s’ main striker, but is comfortable on both wings. James can play as your typical, penalty-box predator, but has proved to have an eye for a spectacular strike in recent seasons.
Signed from Alloa Athletic after breaking into the first team at just 15 years of age, Greig quickly adapted to the step-up and established himself as the youth team’s main striker. The young Fifer has physical presence and can play as a target-man, but has impressed with his goalscoring and all-round link-up play. He missed the first half of this 2010/11 season through injury.
A regular at Under-17 level, Jordan has broken into the Under-19 squad this season and recently made his debut for Danny McGrain’s Development Squad. Jordan joins the U19s as a Scotland youth internationalist, having played regularly for the national team for a number of years.
Patrik is more comfortable playing further forward than his brother, but like Filip he is blessed with tremendous ability. A regular goalscorer for the U19s during the current campaign, the Czech youngster has now set his sights in following Filip into the first-team reckoning.
Irish playmaker Paul George joined the Celtic Academy in 2008 and progressed through the club’s school partnership with St Ninian’s High to become a full-time member of the U19 squad. Skillful, quick and hard-working, the highly-rated Northern Ireland youth cap has already been involved at first team level – playing in the 2010 friendly against AZ Alkmaar at Celtic Park.
Liam was signed from Head of Youth, Chris McCart’s former club, Motherwell, in 2009. A lightning quick centre-forward, who has been capped at youth level by Scotland, he can play in a variety of advanced roles, on either flank or through the middle.
The Swedish-born striker of Bosnian descent was spotted playing for Malmo’s youth team and moved to Celtic Park in January 2010. He had two long-term injuries in his first year at the club, but also impressed with his ability and maturity, playing as a lone striker or part of a front three. He also enjoyed a goalscoring debut in the Under-19 derby.
The Coatbridge-born 17-year-old joined his Bhoyhood-heroes in January 2011, moving to Celtic Park after outstanding start to his professional career at Airdrie United. Tony quickly broke into the first team at New Broomfield and made 15 appearances in the first half of this season, scoring three goals. He played as a trialist for the Under-19s against Liverpool in November 2010 and Celtic moved to secure his signature ahead of a number of other big clubs. Will initially feature for the Under-19s, with the aim of making inroads into the Development Squad.
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It will be really interesting to see how this progresses. When the idea was first mooted I initially thought playing on a Saturday like yesterday when the first team are away could result in a good crowd with more than a passing curiosity or novelty interest.
C’mon the young hoops.