The eyes of the football world will be focused on Munich and the UEFA Champions League final on 19 May, yet that same weekend some potential stars of the future will also be on show when the second edition of the Lennart Johansson Academy Trophy takes place in Solna, Sweden.
Named after the eponymous UEFA Honorary President, who served as UEFA President from 1990–2007, the tournament involves youth sides from some of the biggest clubs in Europe, including both reigning and former European champions in FC Barcelona, Juventus, FK Crvena zvezda and AFC Ajax. Running from 18–20 May at the Skytteholms IP stadium, the competition, organised by Swedish top-flight side AIK Solna, will also feature teams from Sweden, Greece, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Russia, England and Austria.
"The idea of the Lennart Johansson Academy Trophy came up in 2011 when we wanted to do something unique and special, not only for our youth players but also for all the people in Sweden who really love good youth football," tournament director Riki Simic told UEFA.com. "We wanted to do something that no one had done before. At that moment we spoke to Lennart Johansson about the concept. Straight away he loved the idea, so we started to work on it."
The first staging of the 11-a-side event last year attracted 16 teams in two age categories with AC Milan emerging victorious in the section for youngsters born in 1998 and a Georgia national-team selection defeating Juventus in the final of the tournament for those born in 1997. This year sees the expansion of the competition to 24 teams – with the addition of a category for players born in 1999 – all of whom play five games consisting of two halves of 25 minutes.
"The tournament is a high-class tournament and everything needs to be perfect," Simic added. "The pitches, the referees, the hotel, the food – it must all be nothing but the best. We want participants to feel the professional level of the tournament and also be guaranteed really good matches against elite clubs."
Mr Johansson, who serves as the tournament ambassador and figured in the prize-giving ceremony last year, has personally invited some of the biggest clubs from across the continent to sign up. "The idea of the tournament is to have the best teams from each country participating," explained Simic. "We also make an agreement with each club that they need to take part with their best players.
"Our ambition with the Lennart Johansson Academy Trophy is to arrange the best tournament in Europe for youth teams.
We want to create something that people talk about and really want to be part of. In the future when these clubs' players take the next step to their own first teams, we want them to have played in the Lennart Johansson Academy Trophy. We want to have some of Europe's best players participating in our tournament – that's why 'the tournament with the stars of tomorrow' is our mantra and slogan."
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