Slovakia and Lithuania will stage the UEFA European Under-17 and U19 Championship final tournaments in 2013 – and UEFA Youth and Amateur Football Committee chairman Jim Boyce believes those competitions are stronger than ever.
Boyce, also a FIFA vice-president, is a long-time member of the committee and currently in his second spell as chairman. He is delighted with the opportunities the competitions give to both players and host countries; Lithuania has never before hosted a UEFA final tournament.
"I think they stand very high on the list of UEFA priorities," Boyce told UEFA.com. "As I've said before, it is giving many people the chance of playing European football. Especially at a young age, they are getting opportunities which they never had in the past. And I think when you look at last year, the number of people that attended the finals, it is growing each year.
"It is nice that UEFA is taking these competitions to countries which have never previously had a chance of staging European finals. Without youth competitions, you simply couldn't do this. Slovakia have had a U21 finals before. Next year they are holding the U17 finals, and Lithuania are staging the U19 finals. In addition, every country is represented in the draw."
Malta will debut as hosts for the U17 tournament in 2013/14. The following season, when Bulgaria hold the finals, the size of the showpiece event will double from eight to 16 in a return to the system used prior to 2002/03.
"The main reason is that UEFA has meetings and seminars, and at that age, the coaches felt that for the development of young players, the competition should go back to 16 teams," Boyce explained. "It also gives smaller countries the first chance of going to finals."
No association has won the youth competitions more than Spain, and it is no coincidence that many of their presently supreme senior side – players like Iker Casillas, Fernando Torres and Andrés Iniesta – have also won UEFA tournaments at junior level. "If you look at the Spanish system, it has been fantastic for producing players at senior level," Boyce said.
"And if you take Belgium, they were struggling for quite a few years, now they are becoming a force in European football again. They have been building for quite a few years to produce a team with players who have come through the U17 and U19 age groups. It shows you the benefits."
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