Indian football captain and icon, Sunil Chhetri, believes the Next Generation Cup will provide an exclusive platform for young and upcoming Indian football players to enhance their game and emerge as first team players for club as well as the nation in the near future.

At the forefront of India’s attack, Chhetri stands third in the active international goalscorer’s list and is on level with legendary Hungarian striker Ferenc Puskas with 84 goals. The striker hailed this as an excellent opportunity for youngsters to shine on an international stage with several learnings to take away.

“This is an opportunity that I didn’t have as a young footballer in India, and I’m really happy that the Premier League and ISL have joined hands to make this happen,” Chhetri spoke to the TOI.

The upcoming edition of the Next Generation Cup will be hosted by Premier League, thanks to its long-standing partnership with FSDL (Football Sports Development Limited), which will see both the sides work in tandem to foster the growth and development of football in India including talent development, commercial growth, and wider community development.

“The Next Generation Cup presents a chance for our players to go out and get the experience of playing against the youth teams of some of the best sides in the UK,” he continued, “I’m really glad to see our youngsters get this chance, and it also gives our coaches a chance to see the boys who have been knocking on the first team doors in action.”

The 37-year-old also encouraged the young tots to take examples from young players who recently made it into the senior team and have made a mark.

“To give them a message becomes easy when examples like Roshan Naorem are in front of you. Think of where he was exactly a year back and look now, the journey from the club’s academy to the first team and then the Indian [national] team. He was a boy amongst them, and he has completely changed his life around. That is what you can do when you work hard, averred the Bengaluru FC skipper.

Bengaluru FC (U-21) emerged as the winners of the Reliance Foundation Development League (RFDL) and Kerala Blasters FC (U-21) came runners-up in the inaugural event. Both teams will represent India on the international stage in the tournament against the top Premier League academy sides, which commences on Tuesday.