UEFA’s Executive Committee have decided to cancel this season’s UEFA Youth League due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the staging of the competition.
UEFA had initially decided to amend the competition’s format, ditching the orginal group stage for a straight 64 team knockout tournament. However, in an announcement released today, UEFA have said that the travelling restrictions affecting participating clubs create major difficulties for organizing matches and that two clubs (one being Irish U-19 champions, Waterford United) have already withdrawn from the competition.
The UEFA Executive Committee stressed that there is no possibility to further postpone the start of the competition and that the health and safety of youth players must be given highest possible priority.
Given that the first games were merely weeks away and the lengths UEFA went to last season to finish the competition, this is quite a shock. Nonetheless, with many countries across Europe still struggling to contain the virus, it’s probably the correct decision and youth football fans will have to wait and see how this effects the upcoming European Championships in the summer.
Spain U-21 completed the qualifying rounds for the 2021 Euros earlier this season while the Spanish U-19s called up internationals to prepare for a scaled back Euros in Romania. Both tournaments are scheduled to take place in June/July time. The senior edition of the competition is also scheduled to take place around this time, having been postponed last year.
In the short term, Juvenil A -whom were due to play Manchester United- schedule will be freed up, however, its impossible to see the cancelation of the tournament as anything but a massive negative from a Real Madrid perspective. As pointed out by Raul in an interview for UEFA’s 2020 Technical Report, the Youth League is an important formative experience for Spanish youngsters, “I think it really helps players to develop and to improve because often the domestic competitions aren’t so demanding and here they can have a unique experience and experience something which is closer to the professional world.”
Last season’s victory in the competition offered a whole generation of Real Madrid youngsters the platform to advance their careers, a fact demonstrated by their dominance in the current Castilla lineup and that three of them have made first team debuts this season. The likes of Israel Salazar, Alavaro Carillo, Bruno Igelsias, Alberto Retuerta and many more players will miss out on that platform, something that will undoubtedly prove detrimental to their careers in the short term.