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Magic memories and important lessons for youth internationals

UEFA's Under-17 and Under-19 competitions are a vital stepping stone for young talent, providing crucial experiences on and off the pitch.

Scotland's Lennon Miller takes on Robert Ramsak of eventual  champions Germany at the UEFA  Under-17 EURO
Scotland's Lennon Miller takes on Robert Ramsak of eventual champions Germany at the UEFA Under-17 EURO UEFA

Last week, UEFA completed the elite round draws for the 2023/24 men’s Under-17 and Under-19 championships, at the same time honouring the Respect and Fair Play Trophy winners from the 2023 finals.

International youth tournaments are vital in establishing a clear development pathway for elite youth players, and UEFA’s funding model seeks to ensure that as many talented young players as possible can compete at this level.

Every four years, a portion of the development funds generated by the senior men’s EURO is available to help associations cover the costs of entering our youth competitions. In 2023, Wales became the 41st UEFA member to play at the men’s Under-17 finals, while Cyprus will become the 42nd as hosts of the 2024 edition.

Funding development across Europe

Six men’s and women’s UEFA youth tournaments are funded by the revenue generated by senior competitions. Not only does each provide an early shot at glory for the young players taking part; they provide a platform for high-level competition and learning, and a lasting legacy for host nations, who can invest in upgrading their facilities and inspiring the next generation to take up the game.

For players, the benefits are clear: the opportunity to represent their country, test themselves against other top players from across Europe and learn about different styles of play all enrich the experience.

Attending last week's draws was Norwegian midfielder Syver Aas, who collected the fair play award on behalf of the 2023 Under-19 semi-finalists.

"It's an amazing feeling to wear the national team jersey. it's hard to describe how proud I was the first time I got the call up and the EURO topped it all off," the midfielder said. "You get goosebumps when you walk out on the pitch. it's a very proud moment

"Playing at a European tournament is a very, very exciting experience, and the Under-19 EURO is the one experience in football I have learned the most from – it's amazing.

"You play against so many top opponents, the top players, and you played against a lot of different teams, a lot of different players. I wish everyone could experience it, but it's only for the best teams and that's what makes it such a great time, being with the best of the best."

Scotland Under-17s' Lennon Miller with Norway Under-19s' Syver Aas at UEFA HQ
Scotland Under-17s' Lennon Miller with Norway Under-19s' Syver Aas at UEFA HQUEFA

The illustrious list of former Under-17 EURO players includes Aas's compatriot Erling Haaland, Toni Kroos and Cristiano Ronaldo to name but three.

Midfielder Lennon Miller was a part of Under-17 fair play winners Scotland's squad, drawn in their group along with 2023's eventual winners Germany, runners-up France and Portugal at the Under-17 finals.

"It was a superb moment for me," said the Motherwell youngster as he reflected on the Hungary event. "Tournament football is different because you're away for weeks at a time, but you're training with the best in your country and then when you get groups like we got last year, you're playing against the best in the world. It's good to test yourself against these boys and to play and live with boys that are flying in our country."

Looking to the future, the adoption of a new format for UEFA men’s national team youth championships will guarantee teams more competitive matches and provide more opportunities for player development.

From the 2024/25 season, Under-17 EURO qualifying will consist of two rounds of single-venue mini-tournaments featuring all of Europe’s national associations and culminating in an eight-team final tournament. Teams will be split into Leagues A and B for the second round of qualification, with promotion and relegation between the leagues reflected in the make-up of first round Under-19 qualification matches when the 2024/25 Under-17 players move up to the next age level. This will prepare the ground for introducing similar format changes for the 2026/27 Under-19 championship.

All of which will provide an even better sporting experience for Europe’s best young players to test themselves and hone their talent.