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UEFA Youth League's life lessons for young players

Education sessions for semi-finalists covers crucial advice for professional careers, with special community activity for finalists Olympiacos and AC Milan.

Olympiacos players listen  to interpreters during Saturday's UEFA Youth League education session
Olympiacos players listen to interpreters during Saturday's UEFA Youth League education session UEFA via Sportsfile

The UEFA Youth League has now been developing talent for over a decade, but it is also helping to ensure players become well-rounded individuals thanks to dedicated educational and social initiatives.

Each season, the 64 participating clubs receive a UEFA grant to deliver social projects in their local communities, with players encouraged to interact with local children, charities or initiatives. A dedicated UEFA for Players app also offers essential information and advice to support elite talent on and off the pitch, covering a range of topics from finances to integrity, and social media to life after hanging up their boots.

This weekend, the four 2023/24 Youth League semi-finalists, Milan, Nantes, Olympiacos and Porto, joined us at UEFA HQ in Nyon, Switzerland, to combine these different strands in a spirit of unity and collaboration.

Focus on the future

Preparing players for their future career is at the heart of what the Youth League is all about, and on Saturday morning, we called upon former Switzerland international Philippe Senderos to share his experiences and offer advice to the young players.

"We are all very lucky to be involved in football," said the former Arsenal and Milan defender. "Football is a great industry and a great place to be, so enjoy what you do, enjoy going to work, enjoy getting better and enjoy playing football.

"I played for quite a long time and tried to maximise my capacities. This is what you guys have to do. Not everyone is Lionel Messi, so I did everything possible to maximise my capabilities and stay in the game for as long as possible."

Data shows that only a fraction of elite youth players will have a long-term playing career in the game, with around half not playing professional football. This makes financial planning and education all the more important, with 40 per cent of players facing serious financial stress within five years of retirement.

 Philippe Senderos makes a point as Pedro Pinto watches on
Philippe Senderos makes a point as Pedro Pinto watches onUEFA via Sportsfile

"In my late twenties, I understood I was getting more injuries, less opportunities and the clubs interested in me were smaller, less well known, so this might not be my career forever," Senderos explained. "I was lucky enough to play in different countries and learn languages – this helped me adapt to different environments and to communicate, [but] the football world is a small world, you might re-encounter people somewhere else, so make sure you leave a good image of yourself and behave like you would want someone else to behave towards you."

Did you know?

Since it kicked off in 2013, 220 different clubs have participated in the UEFA Youth League, with 23 having reached the final four in Switzerland. This season, 64 teams participated, with 1,383 players from across Europe taking part.

Promoting a positive image

Senderos was also joined by TV presenter and journalist Pedro Pinto, a regular host of UEFA competition draws, to offer advice on facing the media and posting on social channels.

"I saw the mistakes my team-mates made on social media and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to show myself as professional and kept it just on football," Senderos said.

"If you wouldn’t say it on TV, you shouldn’t post it on social media. Beware, because what you post stays out there and it can come back and haunt you years later. It's a powerful tool in a positive way but it can be negative as well."

Dos and don’t's: a players' guide to social media

DO create original content
DO be genuine
DO be respectful
DO share behind-the-scenes content
DO interact with followers and fans
DON'T reveal confidential information
DON’T expose private areas of your life that can affect your reputation
DON'T get involved in arguments
DON'T use bad language

Contributing to society

As well as learning important lessons for their future careers, some of the players also had the opportunity to take part in a local community initiative in partnership with the UEFA Foundation for Children.

The Foundation works all over the world to improve the lives of vulnerable kids, but on Saturday, that work was centred on Nyon as players from Olympiacos and Milan joined young people from the Rêves Suisse organisation, which works to fulfil the dreams of disadvantaged children. The Foundation welcomed children from two local hostels, which serve as a haven for children aged between six and 18 who cannot remain in their family environment due to education and protection concerns. These facilities are structured to cater to each child's unique needs.

Our young guests had a chance to warm up before meeting some players from finalists Milan and Olympiacos. They trained and played a small friendly match together, before the children were taken on a tour of the UEFA campus, including visiting the VAR room, and lunching in the UEFA restaurant alongside the players.

Anna (alias), said: "I hadn't played football until today, but I had a lot of fun. I liked meeting the players the most - they were very kind to me."

Dennis (alias), added: "I was excited to meet the Milan players. We were able to exchange balls for a long time. This was a magic moment for me."

  Milan and Olympiacos players took part in a skills challenge and met young people from the Rêve Suisse organisation
Milan and Olympiacos players took part in a skills challenge and met young people from the Rêve Suisse organisationUEFA via Sportsfile

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