Europe's elite youth club competition is developing players on and off the pitch while contributing to local communities.
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This week, four of European club football's top youth teams will converge on Nyon, Switzerland to compete in the UEFA Youth League knockout finals.
Atlético, Benfica, Juventus and 2017 winners Salzburg are preparing for their semi-finals at the 4,000-capacity Colovray Stadium, with a winner to be crowned next Monday 25 April.
The 2021/22 campaign has offered a welcome return for the tournament, with last season's edition cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And while the Youth League provides crucial experience for players on the pitch, it also provides important opportunities off it.
Supporting local sport
While in Switzerland, all four clubs will take part in educational and social initiatives, fostering a spirit of teamwork and fair play among the teams.
They will hear from UEFA Referees’ Committee chairman Roberto Rosetti on the laws of the game and receive a briefing from UEFA integrity experts, before joining a community session with the UEFA Foundation and PluSport, an organisation which provides sporting opportunities for disabled people.
It is a way for UEFA and the clubs to give back to the Nyon community which has so warmly welcomed the competition since its inception in the 2013/14 season.
UEFA’s headquarters have been based in the western Swiss town, close to Geneva, since 1995. The European body provides financial support to encourage local people, especially youngsters, to practise a sport, as well as seeking to improve the town’s other sporting facilities and infrastructures.
Daniel Rossellat, mayor of Nyon
"The town of Nyon is pleased that this top-quality sporting event is returning after a year’s absence owing to the pandemic. I wish to emphasise that the Nyon region is lucky to have the opportunity to welcome the Youth League tournament, and I’m delighted that, in addition to its sporting dimension, there is also a social aspect to the event, which provides a thrilling possibility for football lovers – especially young people – to admire the stars of tomorrow."
Community at the heart of the UEFA Youth League
Each season, all competing clubs are also awarded a €500 UEFA grant to participate in social initiatives, ensuring players are engaging with and helping their local communities.
We already examined Atlético's training session with underprivileged children, with many more stories of players taking the time to engage with those less fortunate than themselves.
One example is Manchester United, whose squad conducted mental health education and awareness sessions at local high schools which are partnered with the Manchester United Foundation.
The players planned a physical activity, designed to encourage the children to keep active in support of their mental health, and led a Q&A session with the students, creating a safe space for the children to open up about how they feel, manage challenges and highlight the support they could access.
Paris Saint-Germain players created a "solidarity restaurant", cooking and delivering meals to students from the club Foundation's Red and Blue school, where disadvantaged children receive assisted learning sessions to aid their studies. Other squad members visited children in a local hospital, spending time chatting with the patients and their families.
Sevilla's squad visited and donated to the Bioalverde ecological garden, a not-for-profit organisation founded to benefit people at risk from social exclusion.
Other initiatives this season have seen clubs supporting the adoption of abandoned pets (Hajduk Split) and backing local cancer charities (Deportivo).
UEFA For Players education app
Additionally, all teams involved with the Youth League receive educational training and free access to the UEFA For Players app, which provides guidance and advice for players at all stages of their career.
Designed to expand football and career management knowledge at the touch of a screen, UEFA For Players offers modules on integrity, anti-doping, social image, finances, fair play and second careers after football.
Players earn points for completing modules, and each month, the top performers earn prizes such as UEFA Champions League match balls. The 2021/22 seasonal winner was FK Crvena zvezda's Mateja Bubanj, who received Champions League final tickets. Second place Lorenzo Dallavalle of Juventus won tickets to the Europa League final, while third place went to Bubanj's team-mate Luka Bošković, who was rewarded with a Sony Playstation 5.
Despite having two of the top three players across the season, Crvena zvezda were beaten into second place in the team category by Deportivo La Coruña, with Inter finishing third. All three clubs received contributions towards a team-building event as a prize.
Reinvesting for the good of the game
The Youth League is an example of how UEFA reinvests revenue from its top men's competitions into developing the European game at all levels of the football pyramid. Income generated by the EURO, Champions League and Europa League funds 13 other UEFA men's and women's competitions: Women’s EURO and Champions League, European Under-21 Championship, men’s and women’s Futsal EUROs, Futsal Champions League, Youth League, men’s and women’s Under-17 and Under-19 Championships, Under-19 Futsal Championship, Regions’ Cup.