The Premier League Next Generation Cup is a project set to benefit not just Indian football but also young players in the United Kingdom, Neil Saunders, the director of Premier League, told Sportstar.
“I saw some of the results, like the West Ham 1-1 draw (vs ATK Mohun Bagan) and I think that shows that this tournament really has some football development outcomes for not just the Indian players, but for the English teams as well,” he said.
The Reliance Foundation presents Premier League Next Generation Cup – which started in 2019 – provides a platform for Indian clubs to play with youth sides of elite Premier League clubs, helping them to nourish homegrown players.
The inaugural edition of the tournament saw Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea send their under-14 sides to India.
“It’s great to see the progress that’s been made over the last few seasons. We’ve grown from hosting some under-12 teams that came out to the UK to running a NextGen Cup in the Under-14 age group to now running it with some elite under-19 Premier League clubs that are coming out to India to play and compete against the ISL teams and a team from South Africa,” Saunders said.
“I think that in itself points to the quality increase in India.”
In the last edition of the tournament, two Indian sides – Kerala Blasters and Bengaluru – had played. This year, that number has doubled, featuring ATK Mohun Bagan, Sudeva Delhi, Reliance Foundation Young Champs and Bengaluru FC.
Everton, West Ham United and Wolverhampton Wanderers are the Premier League sides that have travelled to India while the defending champion, Stellenbosch FC, comes from South Africa.
Parallels with the EPPP
The Reliance Foundation presents Premier League Next Generation Cup in India can draw some parallels with the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) under the gamut of the same enterprise.
Starting in the 2012-13 season, the program, aimed at nourishing home-grown players and referees to play and officiate in the Premier League, respectively, has seen remarkable success in terms of not just English players, but also the ones who switched nationalities.
Germany’s Jamal Musiala and Ghana’s Tariq Lamptey are glaring examples of the same. For England, 12 of the 26 members of the World Cup squad were products of the EPPP.
“Over 10 years on from the introduction of that plan, we’re really pleased and proud to see the volume of young players that are now playing,” Saunders said.
“We’ve had a year-on-year increase for English under-21 players playing in the Premier League, with the quality of the league increasing, year on, at the same time. So, that’s great to see.”
Under the Premier League cooperation agreement, Saunders added that the League is also assisting with the development of referees in the country – also an objective of EPPP.
“We’ve seen the appointment of Trevor Kettle (Former FA referee) as the Chief Refereeing Officer. That’s someone who was once there on the ground and is now playing an active role in the development of football in India,” he said.
All said and done, he, however, did agree that there are some limitations on allowing Indian players to train in the academies of PL clubs but said that the current partnership would help Indian football grow as a community.
“There are strict regulations around players moving cross-border. So, prior to the age of 18, players aren’t able to move,” he said.
“But a big part of our work with young players is their holistic development. We hope the Indian players can really feel the benefits of these opportunities by testing themselves against some of our elite academies. We hope that aids their growth and, more broadly, the development of football in India.”
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