The second annual UEFA Grassroots Day, taking place across Europe three days before the final of Europe's biggest club competition, is celebrating the link between football's elite and grassroots levels.
London's Hyde Park is the focal point of activities organised in each of UEFA's 53 member association countries, with matches for children, skills clinics and special appearances from UEFA grassroots ambassadors all part of the week-long UEFA Champions Festival.
"It's a special day to focus on the grassroots game – it highlights how crucial it is long term," said Sir Trevor Brooking, head of football development at the English Football Association (FA). "The day, this week and the longer term, the focus is all about the fun element, trying to develop that skill base but in an environment where everyone is encouraged to try things and you're just trying to raise that level of ability."
The events serve as a precursor to Saturday's UEFA Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC, a match Brooking believes will do much to inspire the younger generation.
"When I was young I used to watch Real Madrid [CF], in the days of Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás and Francisco Gento in the late 50s, and we'd all go out in the back garden and try to replicate the game that we'd just seen and we'd all become the different characters. Here you've got two fantastic teams and squads but you've also got charismatic individuals, people like Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández and Lionel Messi."
One of the highlights in Hyde Park today is a special UEFA Grassroots Day mini-pitch schools tournament, and Brooking is delighted the FA is being given an opportunity to showcase its young footballers, products of a grassroots programme that has earned the FA six-star status in the UEFA Grassroots Charter.
Former West Ham United FC and England midfielder Brooking said: "From where I am in football development we've been lucky. We've managed to sustain the growth, particularly in mini-soccer. To have such a big event like this, the Champions League, the teams involved, the focus, is going to be a massive platform for us."
The UEFA Executive Committee will decide on this season's UEFA Grassroots Awards next month in Nyon – with the best grassroots projects, clubs and leaders of those nominated around Europe to be recognised for their contribution to the sport.
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