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Three associations given UEFA youth academy support

Three European national associations – Finland, Israel and Northern Ireland –will be offered tailor-made support by UEFA until 2023 as part of its elite youth academy programme.

Northern Ireland's youngsters celebrate a goal
Northern Ireland's youngsters celebrate a goal ©IFA

Finland, Israel and Northern Ireland are the three national associations that will take part in UEFA’s elite youth academy programme during the next four years.

The three countries will be offered tailor-made support by UEFA in the field of elite youth player development from 2019/20 until 2022/23. This follows the UEFA Finance Committee’s agreement to continue the academy programme for at least four more seasons.

The main objective of UEFA’s academy project is to produce better players, compose the right mixture of sporting, school and life skills education, and to ensure quality development and technical programmes.

This is in line with UEFA's mission statement, which puts a clear emphasis on the development of football throughout Europe – including giving constant impetus to the coaching and fostering of young footballers.

Finland will benefit from UEFA's help for a four-year period
Finland will benefit from UEFA's help for a four-year period©FA of Finland

Finland, Israel and Northern Ireland have been selected on the basis of various criteria – good infrastructures are already in place; support is forthcoming from the associations’ senior management; the associations are located in different parts of Europe; and they all have a sufficient number of registered players.

Different age groups will be involved in each country: U16 and U17 in Finland, U13 to U15 in Israel, and U14 to U16 in Northern Ireland. The three associations have a variety of youth development goals, ranging from training and preparing elite players for professional careers at home and abroad; nurturing higher quality players for domestic clubs; developing players’ personalities; improving coaching with UEFA’s presence; and developing national scouting networks.

Each association is entitled to receive €200,000 per season to cover the running costs of their academy, among other things. A UEFA consultant will be in charge of one association each and will visit the association five times a year to discuss the association’s needs and convey UEFA’s best practices.

UEFA will work with the associations in accordance with a detailed plan, and each visit to the association will cover different topics ranging from medical and technical issues to nutrition, scouting, schooling and training. Association staff and coaches will develop their work with the youngsters in relation to each visit.

“Our task is to deliver a complete programme for the development of talented young players with potential,” says UEFA’s head of football development, Jean-François Domergue. “Over time, we then build a relationship of confidence and trust to take the programme forward.”

“While the projects for each country are identical, different cultures and mentalities are involved, which is why confidence is the key element of this programme. The main objective at the heart of our strategy is to develop talented young players, and everyone pools their resources to reach this objective.”

Israel's young players (centre) will be given crucial sporting and personal development training
Israel's young players (centre) will be given crucial sporting and personal development training©Israel Football Association

UEFA will make members of its technical team – experienced coaches and technical experts – available to visit the associations several times each year to give advice and guidance not only from a technical point of view, but also in terms of education and management.

This means that coaches and instructors receive expert training which not only helps them to raise their standards, but in turn acts as inspiration and motivation in their development work.

The link between football training and education will be a focal point of the cooperation. Alongside top-quality technical, tactical and fitness training – the third type also comprising key elements such as nutrition and hygiene – youngsters will also learn essential life skills in terms of conduct, attitude and responsibility.

“A lot of youngsters dream of becoming professional footballers, but only a few of them actually make it,” says Jean-François Domergue. “We try to give them all the possible tools to succeed – and this also includes a good educational balance, which is absolutely necessary for their development.”

“Not all of the youngsters will be fortunate enough to get to the highest levels,” Domergue adds, “but what they will learn over a number of years will give them experience that will stand them in good stead in their lives in general.”

A successful five-year elite youth academy pilot project has just been completed, in which UEFA has been working together with, and given assistance crucial assistance to the associations of Armenia, Belarus, Georgia and North Macedonia.

The four pilot associations have received constant and regular guidance in mapping out effective youth development plans and infrastructures. “We have undertaken an enormous amount of work with each association,” says Domergue, “and the results are there to be seen.” The pilot project will be one of the topics on the agenda for an elite youth development workshop this autumn.

Jean-François Domergue, a former French international and European champion with his country in 1984, has experienced first hand how proper football education, schooling and personal support are all important elements in a young footballer’s development.

“I began my career with Girondins de Bordeaux, and I had the opportunity to follow a complete training programme which included football, education and school aspects,” he says.

“I feel that this strengthened me in my approach towards high-level football – as my career would suggest. Balanced work between the ages of 13 and 16 is one of the key things for a young player to succeed.”