LIVERPOOL boss Brendan Rodgers says playing in the Milk Cup is a fantastic experience for any young footballer.
Rodgers played three times in the Milk Cup for Ballymena and, when he was a youth coach at Stamford Bridge, he introduced Chelsea to the competition. He was in belfast last week along with Raheem Sterling to perform the draw for this year’s competition.
The Carnlough man is sending over two teams from Liverpool in the summer to compete in the junior and premier sections, and he is confident that the youngsters from Anfield will enjoy and learn from their time in Northern Ireland.
“My memory of the Milk Cup as a young player is that it was incredible to be part of and even as a coach when I brought Chelsea over here for the first time, it was fantastic,” recalled Rodgers.
“When I was a kid playing for Ballymena my mum and dad used to bring my younger brothers to stay on the north coast and go and watch the games.
“It was a wonderful week for them. Once we reached the semi-finals, losing to Craigavon the year they won the competition.
“I also remember back then they used to do a Northern Ireland v Rest of the World game and I was picked twice for that match which was a big thing for me, especially playing in front of such big crowds.
“It is one of the best experiences you will ever have in your life as a young footballer.
“It’s what youth football is about – enjoyment and experience. I’m really proud to be associated with the Northern Ireland Milk Cup.
“This tournament is still going strong after 31 years and all those involved in the event deserve medals and awards themselves for all the work and organisation they put in.
“I think they have been rewarded for that because all the players I’ve ever spoken to who have played in the Milk Cup always have a smile on their face when reflecting on their memories of the competition. That tells you how good the tournament is.”
Rodgers though has called for the competition to receive more financial backing. Speaking at the draw 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.
“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.”