Youth League’s key role on talent pathway

The UEFA Youth League is a crucial stepping stone for young players on their career paths – and, as a UEFA forum agreed, gives them a perfect international platform to display their talents.

Barcelona celebrate their 2018 UEFA Youth League success
Barcelona celebrate their 2018 UEFA Youth League success ©Getty Images

The UEFA Youth League has proved to be a crucial platform in helping talented young players develop and take an important step towards a career at senior level – the unanimous view expressed at the competition’s latest coaches' forum in Nyon.

Youth team coaches and academy directors from throughout Europe were briefed and gave invaluable feedback to UEFA about the competition for European Under-19 club teams, which kicked off in 2013/14.

Youth coaches and academy directors from across Europe attended the forum
Youth coaches and academy directors from across Europe attended the forum©UEFA

The forum covered a wide variety of elements related to the competition – ranging from club’s youth development and academy strategies to the link between youth development and club licensing, and the coaching methods and skills required to guide and motivate young footballers today.

The UEFA Youth League, the forum heard, has proved its worth as a catalyst for talented young players to gain invaluable experience on an international stage at a key moment in their burgeoning careers, and to measure themselves against counterparts from other countries.

At the end of last season, 343 players who had taken part in the UEFA Youth League since 2013/14 had gone on to play in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. “The competition offers players the opportunity to experience what a European competition is at their young age,” said UEFA Deputy General Secretary Giorgio Marchetti. “This benefits the clubs and the players as a whole.”

UEFA’s Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play regulations include the obligation for all clubs to have a written youth development programme. The forum heard how youth football and development of talented young players is considered by UEFA – which has carried out research on the issue - to be a significant pillar of a sustainable business model for a club as well as its overall strategy.

Delegates heard that successful youth academies and development policies are based on a number of key factors. These include close relationships between a club’s management and its development sector; well-qualified coaches and educators to enhance football and other education activities within the club; and effective retention measures, to generate sporting returns on investment through promoting youngsters to the first team, as well as financial returns on investment through the transfer of a player at a later stage.

FC Salzburg coach Marco Rose was a special guest
FC Salzburg coach Marco Rose was a special guest©UEFA

German coach Marco Rose, who took FC Salzburg to the UEFA Youth League title in 2017 and is now the Austrian club’s first-team coach, was a special guest at the forum. He welcomed the opportunities that the competition had brought to his successful young team.

“It is a fascinating thing to play against top teams at an international level,” he said. “It brings you further and makes you better - it’s a very important factor. You learn about new styles, and can see how you fare against top talents from other countries.”

“It’s my duty to give young players an opportunity in the first team if they’re good enough,” Rose added in relation to the UEFA Youth League’s mission to help bridge the gap between youth and senior club teams. “It’s important to have the courage, as a club, to give them a chance to play in the first team – to give players the platform and the trust to make the next step to continue to develop.”

Ken Hughes
Ken Hughes©UEFA

A presentation was given by leading behaviouralist Ken Hughes on the challenges faced by coaches in handling and motivating modern-day young players brought up in the digital age, and managing their specific needs, expectations and values. Dutch club Ajax presented their coaching methodology, and French team Lyon highlighted their academy organisation.

The positive impact of the UEFA Youth League on the development of referees was also highlighted in Nyon. “Apart from the benefit to the players, the competition has been of real benefit to young UEFA referees in the early stages of their career,” UEFA refereeing officer Hugh Dallas told the audience. “It’s a great experience for them as an introduction to club football.”