What is the NextGen Series?
Essentially the NextGen Series is an Under-19 version of the Champions League. It is a European cup competition, played over the course of six months, for youth-team players from some of the biggest clubs in the continent. It is based on a similar format to the Champions League and is designed to help the stars of the future prepare to play in that competition.
How is it organised?
The 2011/12 season was the first year that the competition was held, and the 16 teams involved were split into four groups of four. Each club played each other home and away, with the top two in each group progressing to the knockout stages.
So far, so Champions League. But with fewer teams than its senior counterpart, the Series went straight into the quarter-final stage, with each tie a one-legged affair played at the home of each group winner. The semi-finals were also one-off matches, while the final was played at a neutral venue.
With more teams expected for the 2012/13 version of the Series, the format is likely to be tweaked to accommodate six groups of four teams. The group stages will take place between August and December, with the knockout matches played in the first quarter of 2013.
What are the rules?
There is an age limit of 19 for players participating in the tournament, although teams are allowed to select up to three Under-20 players in their squad.
Which teams are involved?
During the inaugural season of the NextGen Series, 16 clubs from around Europe were involved: Aston Villa, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham (England), Ajax, PSV Eindhoven (Holland), Molde, Rosenborg (Norway), Barcelona (Spain), Inter Milan (Italy), Celtic (Scotland), Wolfsburg (Germany), Marseille (France), Sporting Lisbon (Portugal), Basel (Switzerland) and Fenerbahce (Turkey).
However, Chelsea (England), Paris St Germain (France) and Olympiacos (Greece) have since signed up, along with Arsenal. The organisers are aiming to have 24 teams for the 2012/13 competition.
What happened this season?
The Series kicked off in August 2011 and proved to be a big success. Following the group stages, Inter Milan edged past Sporting Lisbon 1-0 in the first quarter-final, with Marseille getting the better of Aston Villa in the second match.
However, there was controversy following the all-English clash between Tottenham and Liverpool, which Spurs won 1-0. The north London club voluntarily withdrew after an “inadvertent breach of a competition regulation” and Liverpool progressed to the semi-finals, where they were drawn against Ajax, who beat Barcelona 3-0.
In the first semi-final, Ajax thrashed Liverpool 6-0 in front of 6,000 fans at Langtree Park in St Helens, before Inter Milan beat Marseille 2-0 at Griffin Park a week later.
In a closely-contested final, Inter Milan were crowned the first winners of the NextGen Series after a 5-3 penalty shoot-out victory over Ajax at Leyton Orient’s Matchroom Stadium. Liverpool, meanwhile, beat Marseille 2-0 in the third-placed play-off.Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 18 Apr 2012