Youth football holds centre stage in UEFA’s activities this week – with a keynote seminar devoted to this vital sector of the game followed by significant action on the field on Saturday.
Review and preview
The seminar –titled 'UEFA Youth Football – A Celebration' – will take place at UEFA's headquarters on Friday and Saturday, and will look at the state of youth football on the continent in the year that the European governing body celebrates its 50th birthday, as well as reviewing the evolution of youth football over the past five decades. National youth coaches and experts from throughout Europe will be in attendance.
On Saturday evening, the spotlight will switch to the Colovray stadium in UEFA's home town of Nyon in western Switzerland, as it stages the final of the UEFA European Under-19 Championship featuring some of the stars of tomorrow.
"We have already celebrated the top élite game with the EURO final round in Portugal, so we thought that it would also be appropriate in UEFA's Jubilee year to celebrate youth football, which is an activity that is at the core of UEFA's business," said UEFA's technical director, Andy Roxburgh.
UEFA has been operating European youth competitions since its early years in the mid-1950s. Previously, Sir Stanley Rous, the English football administrator, had been the driving force behind international youth tournaments. Since then, the nature of junior international football has changed from being based on friendly matches to a championship format.
"I was at the first youth conference in 1979, and we put forward proposals at the time that triggered off a considerable number of developments in the youth game," explained Roxburgh "These included the staging of real championships, compilation of technical reports and even the wearing of national-team shirts – because that wasn't the case before then.
Matter of pride
"Today, no one would think about a youngster not wearing his national-team jersey. But the thinking in the past was perhaps to lower any nationalist aspects. Today, the thinking is that to wear your national shirt is a matter of pride."
The youth seminar has been timed to coincide with the latest U19 championship, with the final taking place at the impressive Colovray stadium directly opposite UEFA's headquarters. The stadium has been used by the Dutch and French national teams, and Real Madrid CF and SL Benfica, among others, for training purposes. "People might raise their eyebrows at the choice of venue, but it's because the stadium is on UEFA's home patch," said Roxburgh. "We live here in Nyon, and it's an attractive stadium for a youth final."
In addition to looking at the present and the past, the seminar will also ask questions as to where youth football is going in the future. "We have a number of provocative questions that will be raised at the event – so there will also be a serious purpose to the seminar as well as a sense of enjoyment," Roxburgh added.
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