This week sees the start of the UEFA Nations League, a means to make friendly matches, meaningless international breaks more competitive. A new trophy competed in the odd years when there’s no European Championships or World Cup.
With six matchdays, the tournament is finished by the end of November with not only a trophy to be contested for but also a chance to sneak into the Euro’s for teams that fail to qualify the traditional way.
But for the teams competing it’s an opportunity to try out their young superstars in competitive football.
Wales boss Ryan Giggs has already demonstrated he is prepared to utilise young talents in the Nations League in their opening 4-1 victory against Republic of Ireland (Group B4)
Chelsea starlet Ethan Ampadu bossed the midfield from his deep-lying position. The 17-year-old has struggled to break through at Chelsea like many of the young footballers at Stamford Bridge. But the versatile holding midfielder who can also play centre-back possess incredible physical ability and a calm head in possession. Ampadu put in a man of the match performance against Ireland and will look to continue to impress on the international stage as a way of earning regular club football.
Wales also witnessed Swansea youngster Conor Roberts produce a stunning performance capped off by a splendid half-volley which rounded off the 4-1 win. The two youngsters were fielded in a youthful squad by Giggs and the two Welsh superstars added to the immense energy around the pitch which was also supported by the experience of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.
Portugal haven’t played a game in the UEFA Nations League, but Fernando Santos seems to be swaying away from his loyalty picking and has installed faith in the young superstars of today.
Ruben Dias was selected to represent Portugal in Russia but failed to get on the pitch in Russia. But as shown the tiring centre-back partnership of Jose Fonte and Pepe needed revamping and with Dias consistently impressing for Benfica, the 21-year-old could become hugely important at the heart of the Portuguese defence. The Nations League could allow the youngster to assert himself in Portugal’s starting line-up.
Young Portuguese midfielders Gedson Fernandes (Benfica) and Ruben Neves (Wolves) will both be looking for their international debut and continue their growth as box to box midfielders who hold technical brilliance and an endless engine room. 19 and 21 respectively, the young superstars could be the future for Portugal and their journey could take a big step in the UEFA Nations League.
England’s confidence and trust in youth will continue in Gareth Southgate’s hands. Opportunities in the senior team for the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, James Tarkowski and others will come with Southgate’s belief in the youngsters who have already proven themselves in the summer.
Tarkowski missed out in the summer and with John Stones, Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire at the heart of the English defence, the Burnley defender may struggle to breakthrough and assert himself in the Three Lions set-up but the UEFA Nations League will be an opportunity for the 25-year-old to finally put himself in contention for a spot in the Southgate renaissance.
With a new innovative way of making international break more competitive comes a new opportunity way for young prospects to put their footprint on the international stage and begin to prove themselves.
Will the UEFA Nations League allow more youngsters to breakthrough on the international stage? Let us know by commenting below, or tweeting us @AllOutFootball_ with the hashtag #AOF