Sport

Armenia looks to secure strong grassroots future with help from UEFA

Armenia will stage one of the biggest football tournaments in the country’s history when the UEFA European Under-19 Championship kicks off in the capital city Yerevan on Sunday.

The event marks the host nation’s first UEFA finals appearance since 2005, and the Football Federation of Armenia (FFA) is eager to ensure that qualification for UEFA competitions becomes a regular occurrence.

“This tournament will provide youngsters from across Armenia with the chance to see some of the brightest European talents, some of whom may go on to become global stars of the future,” FFA president Artur Vanetsyan told UEFA’s official website.

“We hope that, over the next couple of weeks, the children who watch the competition will become inspired to get involved in football,” he added.

As part of the same wish to give young people the best possible opportunities, the FFA is implementing a nationwide project to improve the country’s footballing infrastructure. Accordingly, a total of ten full-sized pitches have been built in different regions of Armenia, with the first phase seeing four playing surfaces constructed in Vanadzor, Goris and Yerevan (with two).

The second part of the programme entailed the building of several pitches in Yerevan, including at the FFA’s Football Academy, as well as full-sized ones in Sevan and Charentsavan. These are artificial pitches, bringing greater opportunities for young players to train, even during the winter, and so facilitating more practice sessions all year round.

Part of the funding for the initiative comes from UEFA’s HatTrick assistance scheme to national associations. HatTrick itself is funded by revenues from the UEFA European Championship and by 2020 it will have ploughed more than €1.8bn back into the game since its introduction following UEFA EURO 2004.

The FFA drive to enhance Armenia’s infrastructure will dovetail nicely with its policy of striving to improve the grassroots set-up. The overall target is to get 80,000 children and adults involved in grassroots and amateur football.

The FFA has also been keen to promote grassroots projects within the various regions of the country. This work has received backing from UEFA’s HatTrick programme, with the purpose of renovating or reconstructing existing old football stadiums and erecting new ones.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan – arguably the nation’s best-ever player – is endorsing this grassroots work, acting as an ambassador for the programme, and it follows that he will be the ambassador for the U19 tournament too.

“It is vitally important we give boys and girls the opportunity to play football,” said Arsenal attacking midfielder Mkhitaryan.

“It is only through having a strong grassroots programme that we can envisage our teams for both men and women being able to compete with the best clubs and countries in Europe in the future. It is our duty to give young players optimal opportunities so they can achieve their dreams and become successful footballers in years to come,” he added.

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