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Lopetegui and Karanka share insights at UEFA Youth League Coaching Forum

Julen Lopetegui and Aitor Karanka were among the guest speakers at the fourth UEFA Youth League Coaching Forum as over 100 participants gathered to exchange knowledge and ideas.

Julen Lopetegui (centre) and Aitor Karanka on stage during the UEFA Youth League Coaching Forum
Julen Lopetegui (centre) and Aitor Karanka on stage during the UEFA Youth League Coaching Forum

"The UEFA Youth League is a fantastic opportunity, not only for the players, but also for coaches to show your ideas in a more competitive environment than you're used to."

Those were words of encouragement from former Spain boss Julen Lopetegui at this week's fourth UEFA Youth League Coaching Forum, where he joined more than 70 coaches and sporting directors from 41 clubs at UEFA HQ this week.

Over two busy days, visitors heard from speakers on a variety of topics – including talent identification, understanding Gen Z and Alpha, and integrating neuroscience into player development.

Then Lopetegui and Aitor Karanka, who has top-flight coaching experience in Spain, England and Israel, as well as with Spain Under-16s and as an assistant at Real Madrid, participated in a round-table discussion to conclude the event. Attendees exchanged knowledge and ideas with other coaches from across Europe, while also contributing towards their official UEFA coaching licenses.

With the semi-finals and final of the 2023/24 UEFA Youth League coming up from 19-22 April in Nyon, coaches from the four finalists – Olympiacos, Nantes, FC Porto and Milan – were among those in attendance.

Attendees gather outside UEFA Headquarters
Attendees gather outside UEFA Headquarters

Words of advice from experienced leaders

Hearing from seasoned coaches who have reached the top of the game was invaluable for Youth League trainers, with many still in the early stage of their careers, and some in their first coaching roles.

In response to a question about helping youth players make the step up to senior level, Lopetegui emphasised the need for coaches to not only focus on football. "There are players with more talent than others who don't develop because of bad decision-making," he said. "And there are players with less talent who develop faster because they understand the game and how to face different challenges throughout their career.

"All of that is part of the training that should be provided by coaches. We have a responsibility to evolve both on a technical and emotional level, because the better the coaches are, the better the players become."

Another topic of discussion was the importance of data in modern football and how both managers have integrated this into their methods. While acknowledging the importance of data, Karanka also urged caution when it comes to young players.

"With artificial intelligence, there's more and more information available to us, and we need to stay updated with this," he said. "But as coaches, it's also difficult to give players much more information than we already do. Sometimes, there's so much information that we might be limiting the player. This is something we need to think about when we communicate and train."

Aitor Karanka
Aitor Karanka

Shaping the future of the UEFA Youth League

The 2023/24 UEFA Youth League will be the final edition in the tournament's current guise as we move into a new format that emulates upcoming changes to the UEFA Champions League.

UEFA presented these changes, which include an expanded field of teams featuring clubs from all UEFA national associations, and a league stage that mirrors the new Champions League format.

Other highlights from the Coaching Forum 

Coaches from Real Sociedad, Chelsea, Benfica and PSV Eindhoven shared some of the reasons for their success in creating player development pathways to promote talent from youth teams into the senior ranks. Discussions centred around exploring effective talent development methods, key challenges facing successful transitions into the senior game, and best practices for coaches and their clubs.

Coaches also received analysis on themselves, with UEFA's Intelligence Centre breaking down the data on the average age and experience of the coaches, as well as their players, from the European Club Talent and Competition Landscape.

Jes Buster Madsen, head of Research and Development at Copenhagen, gave a talk on integrating neuroscience into football, while Meagan Loyst, Founder of Gen Z VCs, presented ways to better understand young players and optimise their development.

Other topics covered included identifying and managing talent, navigating the transition in football talent management, and a presentation from UEFA chief refereeing officer Roberto Rosetti on the Laws of the Game, exploring and explaining interpretations of offside and handball laws, as well as outlining UEFA's mission to create more respect for match officials.

Participants during Roberto Rosetti's presentation on the Laws of the Game
Participants during Roberto Rosetti's presentation on the Laws of the Game

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