UEFA's chief of football development Maxwell Scherrer discusses the benefits of European football's elite youth club competition to the next generation of stars.
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Some of the best young players in Europe will face off this week as the UEFA Youth League moves into the round of 16.
Since its inception nine years ago, the Youth League has proven itself a valuable tool in developing top talent, evidenced by some of the stellar names that have graced the tournament – from Kylian Mbappé to João Felix, Marcus Rashford, Rúben Dias and Matthijs de Ligt – and this season's edition is no exception with a strong line-up ready to battle for a place in the final eight.
Watching closely will be UEFA's chief of football development, Maxwell Scherrer, who is no stranger to success on the pitch having lifted countless trophies during a glittering career in some of Europe's top leagues.
Maxwell believes the format of the Youth League provides the best platform for modern young players to test themselves at the highest level against their peers, providing the stage to shine and narrowing the gap between top-level youth and senior football.
A rich experience for all
"This competition has a huge impact on youth football," Maxwell says. "We see so many players, we can say about 800 players, who, since the competition started, have made it to the top UEFA competitions - the Champions League, Europa League and now Europa Conference League.
"It’s the last development step to the elite game, where they have not only the pressure of playing against the best players, but they face this kind of pressure as well that people are watching them, they’re on TV - it’s like you’re in the 'real' competitions, so I think this is key in developing the players - they feel this pressure."
It is not only the players that benefit, with coaches and officials also gaining invaluable experience in their own development.
"It’s a great platform for them to perform, not only for players but for coaches, and if we go a little bit further, we can also talk about the referees, who are also starting," Maxwell says.
"There is no other competition where you face the best players and the best teams in Europe, so I think it’s a great opportunity for all of them to face different clubs and cultures of football."
Blues youth graduates make history in Porto
Last May, Chelsea's Mason Mount and Andreas Christensen became the first players to have lifted both the UEFA Youth League and UEFA Champions League trophies. Christensen was a winner of the Youth League with the Blues in 2015, with Mount part of the side which retained the title a year later.
Chelsea team-mate Reece James, a 2018 runner-up against Barcelona, and Manchester City's Rúben Dias, who captained Benfica in the 2017 final against Salzburg, also made history along with Christensen and Mount as they became the first four players to have taken part in both finals.
Off-pitch preparations key for future development
While the Youth League provides crucial experience for players on the pitch, it also provides important opportunities off it.
Each season, competing clubs are awarded a UEFA grant to take part in social initiatives, ensuring players are well versed in contributing to their local communities. This season has seen projects such as training with underprivileged children (Atlético), supporting the adoption of abandoned pets (Hajduk Split) and backing local cancer charities (Deportivo).
Additionally, players receive educational training and access to the UEFA For Players app, which provides guidance and advice for players at all stages of their career. It all means the Youth League is helping to create well-rounded people, and not just elite footballers.