The Champions League for Europe's elite youth players
With UEFA’s Financial Fair Play legislation coming into effect in 2014, clubs are under more pressure than ever before to produce more players from their own youth academies rather than splashing out £25 million on the world’s next best thing - apart from Chelsea of course.
For many years now clubs have participated in youth and reserve leagues at a domestic level, but it was suggested that clubs from around Europe should play each other so that youth players can experience continental competition before making the step up to senior level.
A UEFA U21 Champions League was mooted but never materialised. However, TV producer Justin Andrews and Brentford FC director Mark Warburton had the idea of the NextGen Series - a competition for Europe's top clubs expressly for players under the age of 19.
Backing from investors was found and soon some big teams had signed up. Trial games were held in November 2010 and the series was born.
After its successful debut season last year, ESPN moved to secure the TV rights of the competition for the next three years and have already showed various games including Barcelona’s 2-0 win over Tottenham.
Who's in it?
In the 2011/12 campaign, just 16 teams took part in the NextGen Series, which included the famed youth academies of Liverpool, Celtic, Barcelona and Sporting Lisbon. However, that figure has now grown to 24 for the 2012/13 competition, and could hit 32 by 2014.
The major additions to this season’s tournament are of course Champions League winners Chelsea.
The Blues are hell-bent on producing a world-class array of talent in their luxurious academy in Cobham, and with FFP set to hit the West London club rather hard, they need to start producing some first-team worthy starlets sharpish.
Also taking part is the world-renowned youth side of Arsenal, who possess arguably one of the finest academies in the world and finally have a competition in which to show it off.
Paris Saint-Germain, the club whose reputation has sky-rocketed since being taken over by Qatari investors, also seem keen to nurture their talented youngsters by entering the competition.
Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund, who have in recent years produced the likes of Nuri Sahin and Mario Gotze from their youth set-up, have opted to hop on the bandwagon, as have Serie A giants Juventus.
Joining Barcelona from the Spain corner are Europa League finalists Athletic Bilbao, who are a remarkable success in La Liga despite using only Basque-born players.
Other new entries are Russian side CSKA Moscow, Belgian outfit Anderlecht and Greek champions Olympiakos.
How does it work?
The format of the competition is identical to the UEFA Champions League. Games are played in midweek, with the clubs all playing domestic matches on a Saturday.
The dates may be different as NextGen teams such as Tottenham sometimes play their matches at White Hart Lane, when the senior club is involved in the Europa League.
There are six groups each containing four teams. The amount of groups has increased this year to allow the expansion of the competition.
Here are all 24 teams in their respective groups:
Barcelona, Tottenham, Anderlecht, Wolfsburg
Manchester City, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, Fenerbahce
Chelsea, Ajax, Molde, CSKA Moscow
Aston Villa, Celtic, PSV Eindhoven, Sporting CP
Borussia Dortmund, Internazionale (holders), Liverpool, Rosenberg
Arsenal, Athletic Bilbao, Olympique Marseille, Olympiakos