Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes the Milk Cup international youth tournament needs to have better financial support from government backed agencies.
Speaking in Belfast at draw for this summer’s three-pronged tournament, County Antrim man Rodgers said he was surprised to learn that funding for this year’s event had been cut.
“This is one of the best adverts for Northern Ireland anywhere in the world,” he said.
“Every where you go people talk about the Milk Cup. It puts a smile on faces and is something that deserves to be better supported in terms of finance.
“It’s a wonderful tournament. It’s terrific that it is still going strong after 31 years and I’m proud to be associated with it.”
Rodgers, who played three times for Ballymena in the 1980s, was accompanied by winger Raheem Sterling who admitted he was a big fan of the event, having watched it regularly on TV over the years.
“It is the kind of competition that lets young players like me chase the dream of making it into the professional game,” said the 18-year-old star on his first ever visit to Belfast.
Rodgers added: “As a footballer, playing in the Milk Cup is one of the best experience you’ll ever have in your life.
“It’s about enjoyment and experience and that is what youth football is all about.
“I’m not surprised that once again the organisers have been able to attract clubs of the calibre of SC Corinthians from Brazil this year. They are World club champions and to secure their appearance is a massive achievement.”
Liverpool will return too, competing in both the Premier and Junior sections. Everton, Manchester United, Southampton and Newcastle United are also representing the Premier League.
Mexico will defend the Elite title they won last year and Junior champions Brentford are also on the way back.
Northern Ireland, two-time champions USA and 2011 winners Denmark will join Mexico in the Elite section.
The dates, kick-off times and venues for the individual matches will be finalised in the next few weeks.
The opening parade will take place on Sunday 28 July, with the finals night at Ballymena Showgrounds on Friday 2 August.
Among the new teams competing this year will be Junior outfit Barcelona Sporting de Ecuador from Equador, while a qualifying competition is being used to decide the Chilean entrants in the same section with the final due to be staged soon,
The Milk Cup is sponsored by the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland and is supported by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, BBC Sport NI and the four Council areas of Coleraine, Ballymena, Ballymoney and Limavady.
Group One - Plymouth Argyle, Strikers FC, Japan FA, Co. Fermanagh.
Group Two - Brentford FC, Barcelona Sporting de Ecuador, Co. Londonderry, Co Antrim.
Group Three - Watford FC, Colina (Chile), North Dublin SL, Co. Down.
Group Four - Southampton, Liverpool, Cavan & Monaghan League, Co. Tyrone.
Group Five - Swindon Town, Everton, Dundalk SL, Co. Armagh.
Group One - Vendee FC, Cruz Azul, Cherry Orchard, Co. Down.
Group Two - Otago, Club America de Mexico, Co. Tyrone, Co. Fermanagh.
Group Three - CSKA Moscow, SC Corinthians, Bohemians FC, Co. Londonderry.
Group Four - Newcastle Utd, O’Higgins FC (Chile), Liverpool, Co. Armagh.
Group Five - TUS Altenberge, Strikers FC, Manchester Utd, Co. Antrim.