Elite youth player development programme rolled out to more European national associations after successful impact of pilot projects in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia and North Macedonia.
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UEFA’s elite youth player development programme, which helps talented young footballers develop their skills on- and off-the-field, has been expanded to all 55 of Europe’s national associations (NAs), following four highly successful pilot projects. Each of the 55 UEFA member associations is receiving support to develop their elite youth player pathways.
In addition, youth academies in Finland, Israel and Northern Ireland are receiving special support until 2023 through the ground-breaking programme to enhance their technical programmes and training standards – without neglecting potential football stars’ schooling off-the-pitch.
“A lot of youngsters dream of becoming professional footballers, but only a few of them actually make it,” says Jean-François Domergue, UEFA’s head of player development and a former French international.
“We are trying to give them all the essential tools to succeed, including a balanced education. It’s absolutely necessary for their development as members of society, not just the football community.”
Under UEFA’s innovative programme, youth academies forge strong ties with local schools and clubs, ensuring young players’ technical, tactical and fitness training goes hand-in-hand with lessons in essential life skills, such as conduct, attitude and responsibility
Proven impact in Europe’s growing national associations
The expansion of the programme follows the proven impact of pilot projects in some of Europe’s growing NA’s – Armenia, Belarus, Georgia and North Macedonia.
“The projects have been a resounding success, and are showing UEFA the way forward,” said Domergue. “The four associations have obviously progressed across the board.”
Since the ground-breaking programme’s launch in the 2014/15 season, 40–50 talented young footballers in these countries have served an apprenticeship at their youth academies. Of these, an estimated 60–75 percent have gone on to be capped for their national Under-15, Under-16 and Under-17 teams, with some offered professional club contracts. A few are now pursuing their careers in Belgium, Bulgaria, Italy, Serbia or Slovenia.
“Our data shows that more and more associations today have strong programmes and clear visions for fostering young talents,” Domergue added. “We must continue to help sustain other associations’ development in this area.”
Youth football in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia and North Macedonia will continue to receive financial support through local partnerships and UEFA’s HatTrick programme – the primary means by which European football’s governing body channels its European Championship income back into football development.
Live, eat, sleep and learn in football academies
UEFA selected Armenia, Belarus, Georgia and North Macedonia to pilot the elite youth player development programme after visiting a series of small- and medium-sized national associations.
“We began from a blank sheet of paper, working together with the associations over five years to establish a durable plan of action,” says Domergue, a UEFA EURO winner with France in 1984.
Over the past five years, UEFA has regularly sent technical experts and instructors to each association to share their wisdom and experience with players, coaches and association staff.
“The basic idea was to create and develop a programme, resources and tools to help optimise the training of elite players with potential - enabling them to live, eat, sleep and learn in football academies,” says Domergue.
Explainer: UEFA and football development
As part of its overarching mission to promote, protect and develop European football, UEFA runs cutting edge youth programmes which help talented footballers in its 55 national associations reach their full potential.
By paving the way for generations of footballers to flourish, UEFA and its partners ensure the future of European football is built on strong foundations: high-quality players, on- and off-the-field.