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Women’s Under-17 EURO: ‘You can’t describe the added value of this tournament’

Coaches of the eight teams competing at the UEFA Women’s European Under-17 Championship reflect on the wealth of opportunity it offers, both for the development of their players and themselves.

Poland players and staff celebrate after their side's victory in the UEFA Women's Under-17 EURO Group B match against Belgium
Poland players and staff celebrate after their side's victory in the UEFA Women's Under-17 EURO Group B match against Belgium UEFA via Getty Images

For many of the talented young footballers who have journeyed this month to Sweden for the 2024 edition of the UEFA Women’s European Under-17 Championship, the competition represents their first taste of international tournament football – and with it, huge opportunity.

For hosts Sweden, there’s the added excitement of welcoming players and fans from across the continent. “We are super excited and happy to be here and finally get it started,” says Sweden coach Lovisa Delby. “We hope to see a big audience and a lot of people around us. It will be like a big football party.”

Taking on holders France was a tough way to start that party – Sweden went toe-to-toe with the champions, coming out on the wrong side of a 3-2 thriller – but for Delby the results on the pitch are only one part of a bigger picture. “We don’t feel pressure. I’m only happy to be here,” she says. “We have a very good feeling and really enjoy being here together.”

Highlights: Sweden 2-3 France

That sentiment is echoed by Delby’s Norwegian counterpart, Børje Sørensen. "First of all, it's about joy,” says Sørensen. “We know this is a big arena for the players and that they want to do well, so there will be anxieties, but it is very important to us that it’s joyful. If we can give the players that way of thinking, we think they will also play good football. This is a step to the main goal of becoming top players.”

Helping female players progress to the top

Norway manager Boerje Soerensen speaks to his players during their UEFA  Women's Under-17 EURO match against England
Norway manager Boerje Soerensen speaks to his players during their UEFA Women's Under-17 EURO match against England UEFA via Getty Images

Of course, performance matters, and – as Sørensen suggests – the Women’s Under-17 EURO is a rare chance for Europe’s young players to develop their football by testing themselves against the best.

“Coming up against the best teams in Europe is a great challenge,” agrees England coach Natalie Henderson. “We all want to enjoy this tournament and help these players on their journey to becoming senior professional footballers. Tournaments like this play a major part in that.”

Lenie Onzia, the Belgium coach, adds: “You cannot describe the added value of this tournament for the players. It’s the first time they’re able to compete in a big tournament. There are a lot of players with a lot of talent."

"It’s an experience the players will take with them for the rest of their careers, on and off the field.”

Lenie Onzia, Belgium Women's Under-17 manager

For Portugal coach Carlos Sacadura, much of that added value comes from the exposure to different playing styles. “Having experience outside our country helps us to be better people and players,” he says. “Having challenges and difficult games helps us to find new ways and styles of playing. We become smarter, learning the game in new contexts.”

Boosting coach development

The tournament represents a valuable opportunity for the coaches themselves, too, as Sacadura explains. “It’s wonderful for me as a coach,” he says. “I see new realities and adjust our game. We think about how we can stop the other teams and do better with what we have.”

The Women’s Under-17 EURO is also an opportunity to share knowledge and insights with other coaching teams. “We have the opportunity to get to know the coaches, and that offers a lot,” explains Marcin Kasprowicz, Poland’s coach. “Through this contact, through conversations, through sharing information, we all gain. We can sit together, even for five minutes, and exchange experiences about the training process in other countries, the process of developing young players. Every coach benefits from this time. These are very valuable discussions for us.”

The experience of tournament football goes beyond tactical insight, adds Kasprowicz. “It’s also interesting and exciting to learn about the different cultures of the football community. Added to this is awareness of team organisation and their daily schedules.

“I have gained a lot of confidence as a coach by taking a broader view of the tournament – not only playing the matches, but also preparing for them ”

Marcin Kasprowicz, Poland Women's Under-17 manager

The highest levels of competition

Beyond the technical aspects of the coaches’ role, there’s nothing quite like leading a team into an international tournament, as Spain coach Kenio Gonzalo illustrates: “This job is my passion. I live for football, for training young players. I am a physical education primary teacher in my other life, and combining education with high-level competition is incredible for me.”

As the competition heads towards the final on 18 May, France coach Cécile Locatelli is under no illusions how difficult it will be to defend their title. “Our players are aware of our status as title holders, but they stay humble and know they have to work to do in order to do as well as the players did last year,” says Locatelli. “They realise how high the level is.”

Whoever is crowned victorious in Malmö, it’s clear that no team will leave Sweden empty handed.

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