The UEFA Europa League takes centre stage in Turin this week but the grassroots are never forgotten, with events held at a famous city square and a juvenile detention centre.
The stars of today will be on the pitch at the Juventus Stadium this evening, but it was the stars of tomorrow that enjoyed their moment in the sun this afternoon as the Piazza San Carlo in Turin staged a grassroots tournament.
Boys and girls aged eight to 16 and drawn from around the northern Italian city contested two knockout competitions on two temporary pitches at the 17th century square, one of Turin's biggest tourist hubs. The mounted statue of Count Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy surveyed the action, and was joined by proud parents and supporters of Sevilla FC and SL Benfica, tonight's UEFA Europa League finalists.
While Italian television anchorman Mino Taveri compered the event Luca Pancalli, head of the youth and school sector at the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), told UEFA.com how important it is to nurture the grassroots and safeguard football's well-being at all levels. "Any big football event supported by grassroots initiatives – especially when children are involved – can bring a lasting legacy as it allows us to show that football is not only played on the biggest stages," he said.
"Professional football is just the tip of the iceberg – the foundations are laid by the thousands upon thousands of kids who enjoy the game, play it and dream of becoming champions one day. Our mission is to help them fulfil their dream." Former swimmer Pancalli certainly achieved his, winning 14 medals (eight of them gold) at the Paralympic Games in 1984, 1988 and 1996.
The 50-year-old also underlined the importance of the growth of women's football in parallel to the male game. "We are working in collaboration with UEFA on this," he said. "We are trying to take advantage of all the resources at our disposal, like the mini-pitches UEFA gave us [as part of the HatTrick assistance programme], to take football everywhere, especially to the most difficult areas of big Italian cities and women's football. We had some difficulty in Italy in this respect, but we are making up for it."
Inclusivity is the watchword. This morning Turin's Ferrante Aporti juvenile detention centre hosted a mini-tournament linked with the grassroots activities, as the FIGC seeks to engage young detainees, using football as an educational tool. They played under the banner 'nessuno escluso!' (nobody excluded!), which could easily apply to the FIGC's approach as a whole.