From the Youth League to the Champions League
Monday, January 12, 2015
Twenty-seven players have graced both the UEFA Youth League and the UEFA Champions League since the former competition was born in September 2013.
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The path to the UEFA Champions League is one that every teenager who features in the UEFA Youth League aspires to tread. In fact, 27 players have made that journey since the Under-19 tournament's inaugural season in 2013/14, be it for a brief cameo or for a run of appearances in Europe's premier club competition. UEFA.com selects six for closer inspection.
Andy Kawaya (RSC Anderlecht)
Kawaya was instrumental in Anderlecht topping their UEFA Youth League section this term. The 18-year-old winger supplied four assists, a tally bettered by just two players. He made his senior debut in November, following it up three days later by coming on for the second half of Anderlecht's remarkable 3-3 UEFA Champions League draw at Arsenal FC and setting up the first goal for Anthony Vanden Borre as Les Mauves et Blanc fought back from 3-0 down. That came two weeks after the Belgian U19 international had scored in the two clubs' first UEFA Youth League meeting, a 4-3 Anderlecht win.
Anwar El Ghazi (AFC Ajax)
The 19-year-old attacking midfielder joined Ajax from Sparta Rotterdam in July 2013 on a three-year contract. After four UEFA Youth League outings in 2013/14, including two goals against Celtic FC, El Ghazi impressed Frank de Boer in pre-season, netting a hat-trick during his first friendly. He has not looked back since, registering six times in the Eredivisie and getting a memorable goal for himself at the Camp Nou during Ajax's 3-1 loss to FC Barcelona on 21 October.
Breel Embolo (FC Basel 1893)
Involved last season, Cameroon-born Embolo has not figured in the UEFA Youth League this campaign because, at just 17, he is firmly part of Basel's first-team plans. Though he will be eligible for the 2015/16 edition, Embolo has, in all likelihood, made his last contribution to the competition. The striker – scorer of a Swiss Cup hat-trick in September – featured in all six of Basel's UEFA Champions League group games, notching against PFC Ludogorets Razgrad on matchday four. Still, he had to be at school by 8am the next day.
Bryan Cristante (AC Milan, SL Benfica)
Not many footballers make their senior bow in a UEFA Champions League tie, but that is exactly what Cristante did on matchday six in 2011/12. Aged 16 years and 278 days, he emerged for the closing stages of Milan's 2-2 draw with FC Viktoria Plzeň. At the time, the midfielder was the fourth-youngest player to appear in the competition – it would be two years before his deployment in the inaugural UEFA Youth League, scoring in both of Milan's games with Barcelona. Cristante, now 19, moved to Benfica on a five-year deal on 1 September 2014 and saw more UEFA Champions League action, starting both fixtures against Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
Gianluca Gaudino (FC Bayern München)
The son of five-times German international Maurizio Gaudino, Gianluca graduated to Bayern's senior squad last summer and was given his debut in the German Super Cup against Borussia Dortmund. The midfielder graced five of the Bavarians' UEFA Youth League matches in 2013/14 and three of their first four this term before making the bench for Bayern's UEFA Champions League assignment at Manchester City FC. Given a watching brief that day, the 18-year-old Gaudino played 72 minutes against PFC CSKA Moskva on 10 December. He signed his first professional contract a week later.
Munir El Haddadi (FC Barcelona)
Perhaps the most famous UEFA Youth League alumnus given both his top-scoring exploits last season and how he has subsequently become a full Spanish international. The 19-year-old forward, one of UEFA.com's picks of 2014, was the standout player of 2013/14 for not just his 11 goals but also the manner of them. Who can forget his outrageous effort from halfway in the final against Benfica? He carried that form into this campaign, scoring on his Liga bow against Elche CF, though he has yet to find the target in three UEFA Champions League forays.
In addition to Gaudino and Kawaya, eight players that have tasted UEFA Youth League action this term made one or more appearances in the UEFA Champions League group stage:
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea FC 3-1 Sporting Clube de Portugal)
Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Galatasaray AŞ 1-4 Arsenal FC)
Stefan O'Connor (Galatasaray AŞ 1-4 Arsenal FC)
Levin Öztunali (Bayer 04 Leverkusen 3-1 SL Benfica)
Erdal Rakip (Juventus 2-0 Malmö FF; Malmö FF 2-0 Olympiacos FC; Malmö FF 0-2 Juventus)
Jairo Riedewald (FC Barcelona 3-1 AFC Ajax; AFC Ajax 0-2 FC Barcelona; AFC Ajax 4-0 APOEL FC)
Dominic Solanke (Chelsea FC 6-0 NK Maribor)
Gedion Zelalem (Galatasaray AŞ 1-4 Arsenal FC)
Chelsea manager José Mourinho on Ruben Loftus-Cheek