The UEFA Youth League was introduced to the European scene in 2013/14, the first season of a two-year trial.
The Under-19 competition fills an interesting gap: it is UEFA's first youth tournament at club level. Borne of a request from the European Club Association, the venture aims to further develop youth football at professional club level, reduce the gap between sides' youth and first teams and offer unique international experience and competition matches for these youngsters.
The format seeks to aid these goals. Each UEFA Champions League group stage club enters their U19 side and the autumn schedule is replicated in the UEFA Youth League: the same group stage draw and fixtures, with players having the chance to travel with their senior colleagues to away games.
Apart from coming up against different styles of football, new clubs and experiences, some of the aspiring youngsters also gain the chance to deal with the media – another key element of football at the highest level. Games are often the afternoon of, and within close proximity to, the senior sides' fixture. The youth teams can play and then head to the stadium to watch the first team – it is the same for travelling fans who are given an added bonus for following their club.
A new competition maybe, but there was no shortage of big names involved in the first season. The likes of Filippo Inzaghi and Patrick Vieira took up coach positions, while the sons of UEFA Champions League luminaries such as Andrew Cole, Mehmet Scholl and Zinédine Zidane were all involved.
The competitions go their separate ways at the round of 16 stage, with the top two in each UEFA Youth League group heading through and the section winners hosting a one-legged tie. The quarter-finals are also one-off games, and they decide the lineup for the final tournament which takes place in Nyon in April.
In the inaugural season, FC Barcelona, SL Benfica, Real Madrid CF and FC Schalke 04 were the four sides left standing. Benfica swept aside Madrid and Barça squeezed past Schalke, before La Masia's latest vintage put on a show in the final to ensure Barcelona's name would be the first one etched on the Lennart Johansson trophy.
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