Former India striker IM Vijayan believes the opportunity to play against Premier League academy teams will be a learning curve for young Indian players who will take part in the second edition of the Next Gen Cup in the UK, starting July 26.
The Next Gen Cup is part of Football Sports Development Limited's (FSDL) long-standing partnership with the Premier League to foster the growth of the Indian football ecosystem. This year, Bengaluru FC (BFC) and Kerala Blasters FC (KBFC) from the Indian Super League (ISL) will participate in the competition after finishing in the top two of the inaugural Reliance Foundation Development League (RFDL).
Although essentially a U-21 tournament, two players above the age of 21 but below 23 can register for the Next Gen Cup. Both BFC and KBFC will fly out to the UK on July 22. A few players from KBFC's senior team such as Hormipam Ruivah, Jeakson Singh, Ayush Adhikari and Bijoy Varghese are also expected to feature in the competition.
"It is the best chance the players can ever get. Having the opportunity to play against academy teams from the Premier League, the world's top league, at such a young age, will boost the confidence of young players and give them plenty of experience."
The former India captain also felt that the RFDL, which served as the qualification platform for the Next Cup Gen Cup, has helped build a competitive spirit among emerging players across the country.
"What the Reliance Foundation does is beyond words of praise. They are molding a strong young generation who are talented and love football. Giving them such opportunities at a young age will enhance their confidence and efficiency. It is indeed commendable to mold a young generation capable of taking India to the top of world football."
Emphasizing the importance of unearthing new talent, Vijayan believes the Next Gen Cup will be an aspirational tournament for young footballers and will give them an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Sahal Abdul Samad and Suresh Singh Wangjam, who now feature regularly in the national team.
The 53-year-old concluded:
"I hope we are seeing a change. We are embarking on a new era of Indian football with the youngsters coming in and taking charge. India did well in the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, with so many young players making the core of the team. Now with competitions like this, I am sure we will find many more talented players who will serve the country for a long time."