It is a balmy early evening in mid-April and the Lennart Johansson trophy is being raised in triumph for the first time at Nyon's Stade Colovray.
The name of FC Barcelona is the first to be engraved on the newest piece of silverware in the UEFA stable, but there is also an air of success being felt by the overall impact the UEFA Youth League has had in its first season.
No one is quite sure what to expect when a new competition is introduced – not least a first foray into club-level youth football. The main aims were of development and giving youngsters a real taste of European competition, and it was given a real boost as the venture was quickly embraced by the clubs.
The first goal in the UEFA Youth League's history was scored by Manchester City FC's Sinan Bytyqi. Indeed, the English club looked a good bet to make the finals before falling to a resilient SL Benfica in the last eight.
It may have been a new competition, but there was no shortage of famous names: City were led by former France midfielder Patrick Vieira, while playing up front was a certain Devante Cole – son of Andrew – who ended up as the second joint-top scorer in the competition.
Zinédine Zidane and Mehmet Scholl also had sons turning out while, back on the bench, Filippo Inzaghi was leading AC Milan's U19s. "The lads are very proud to play matches like this, and they develop further," Inzaghi said during the group stage. "You travel to splendid places and face big teams."
Mirroring the clubs and fixture schedule of the UEFA Champions League group stage, the competition went its own way in the knockout phase, with one-off ties in the round of 16 and quarter-finals. The semi-finals and final were played at a sold-out Stade Colovray at UEFA headquarters in Nyon on a perfect weekend for football.
The four sides left standing – Barcelona, Benfica, Real Madrid CF and FC Schalke 04 – produced some brilliant football on a pitch especially prepared by Madrid's groundsman. A carnival atmosphere in beautiful weather was added to by local schools being assigned to each club and plenty of other supporters making the trip.
Benfica fans were especially prevalent, and it was the Portuguese side who immediately gave their sizable following something to shout about. They flew into a 3-0 lead within 17 minutes of their last-four meeting against Madrid, with the Spanish side reduced to ten men in the process. Running out eventual 4-0 winners, the Eagles could relax and watch on as Schalke and Barcelona took to the pitch in the second semi-final. A much tighter affair, it was decided by a second-half Munir El Haddadi goal, the competition's top scorer taking Barça into the inaugural final.
The Catalan side were then irresistible in the decider, defeating previously unbeaten Benfica 3-0, a win crowned by a moment of magic by El Haddadi, who struck his side's third goal with a spectacular effort from the halfway line. In a competition devoted to development, it was a reminder that the first year of the UEFA Youth League also offered plenty of room for entertainment.
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