Wise heads on young shoulders at Youth League finals

A brief chat with two of the starlets on show at the UEFA Youth League finals –Barcelona's Jandro Orellana and Tariq Lamptey of Chelsea – dispelled some lazy assumptions about young players.

Chelsea defender Tariq Lamptey and Barcelona midfielder Jandro Orellana spoke to UEFA.com during the UEFA Youth League finals
Chelsea defender Tariq Lamptey and Barcelona midfielder Jandro Orellana spoke to UEFA.com during the UEFA Youth League finals ©Sportsfile

The UEFA Youth League – which climaxed with Porto pipping Chelsea to the title – was not exclusively about the win-lose narrative of football. Bookended by the semi-finals and final, an education day for the four finalist teams imparted key lessons about financial planning as well as the VAR system.

There were willing listeners at these sessions, and afterwards two of them sat down with UEFA.com to debunk a few myths about young footballers. Yes, sport is the clear priority for these talented teenagers, but their vision and values extend beyond the limits of a football field – and the supposed glamour of their chosen industry.

Tariq Lamptey, Chelsea's 18-year-old England youth defender, said the educational aspect of the Youth League was "a great opportunity", adding that "everyone needs to know what you have to do financially".

Players listen intently at an education session
Players listen intently at an education session©UEFA

Those leading the sessions probably found a natural student in the versatile right-sided player, who readily admitted to enjoying his A level studies – "they take my mind off football". Here, Jandro Orellana, Barcelona's Spain Under-19 midfielder, chimed: "Studying helps you maintain a balance between football and the rest of your life."

If strong foundations facilitate the future scaling of sporting heights, Lamptey revealed how his family "were always telling me, 'We know you're going to make it as a footballer but there's always something alongside it.' I love playing football but I like the educational side as well." Such a home environment softens the pressures of important matches or exams. "Whenever I feel stressed or anxious, I talk to my dad or my mum."

In Jandro's case, a "family who've drummed into me what's important" has been supplemented by a Barcelona apprenticeship "where the approach is to develop us not just as players but as people – personally and academically".

Barcelona and Chelsea met in the semi-finals
Barcelona and Chelsea met in the semi-finals©Sportsfile

"We have [values such as] equality and respect for all races instilled in us from a very young age," he expanded. "We're lucky enough to have diverse cultures and opinions within the team and we discuss such things."

One potential minefield for this generation, of course, is social media. Lamptey, well advised on the dangers by his club, sees a positive in the opportunity for dialogue with fans who "take the time to say 'well done, you played really well'". Of the internet, he continued: "I'm always trying to find out information and what's going on in the world."

This interest in society at large has even engendered a wish to "do stuff with charities as I get older. We have privilege, so it's about how can we affect other people's lives and help them."

At Barcelona, their Masia Solidària project gets junior players involved with charitable organisations – for everyone's benefit. "We've started paying visits to hospitals and to groups where inequality is an issue," explained Jandro. "It's good to see another side of life."

Raheem Sterling is a role model to young players
Raheem Sterling is a role model to young players©Getty Images

The Catalan native is perhaps unusual as a self-confessed newspaper-buying 18-year-old. He cites the influence of his friend, Barcelona B midfielder Oriol Busquets: "He's doing a degree and told me a footballer's career isn't as long as we youngsters think. You have to keep educating yourself. There's a whole world out there after football and you never know what's going to happen."

It follows that Lamptey, for whom Manchester City's anti-racism campaigning winger Raheem Sterling is a role model, cautions against prejudging young players. It is too easy to overlook "all the hard work, late hours and early mornings" that underpin a prospective career.

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