Grassroots football has come under incredible focus lately, particularly with the proposed formation of the European Super League and its potential impact on the existing pyramid structure in England.
However, we’ve seen billions pumped into grassroots systems throughout Europe in recent years, particularly following Germany’s decision to invest €500 million on youth development between 2001 and 2011 and following the debacle of the 2000 European Championships.
This contributed heavily to the nation’s World Cup win in 2014, inspiring countries to follow suit across the globe. In the first of a series of articles, we’ll discuss this further while appraising the best grassroots setups across the globe in 2021.
A Look at Award-winning Grassroots Setups in the World
One of the best ways to gauge the performance of a country’s grassroots setup is through UEFA’s coveted ‘Grassroots Awards’.
Held annually, these awards celebrate the leaders and projects that drive youth development throughout Europe, and the contribution that they make both to the sport of football and society as a whole.
Last year’s awards saw 129 nominations from 36 European countries, as standards remained high despite the global coronavirus pandemic. So, let’s take a look at the biggest winners and what we can glean from their achievements.
The Best Grassroots Projects and Clubs
The Netherlands has always been renowned for having an outstanding grassroots system, with youth and technical development underpinning many of the great Ajax sides from the last 50 years.
Unsurprisingly, the nation featured heavily in last year’s Grassroots Awards, with the so-called ‘Rinus’ project claiming silver in the ‘Best Grassroots Project’ category.
Rinus is a dedicated and intuitive coaching app that’s currently accessed by more than 25,000 grassroots coaches per month, with over 80,000 active users listed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Founded in 2017, the app is designed to help everyone from fully qualified coaches to well-intentioned parents, with a key focus on tracking player development, technical training exercises and ready-made schedules.
The app is now going international too, potentially creating an excellent template for the seamless development of talent at youth level throughout Europe.
Denmark has also made huge strides in the field of grassroots football of late, particularly from the perspective of diversity and accessibility.
To this end, Danish side Frederiksberg Boldklub won the 2020 Gold Award for Best Grassroots Club, thanks largely to its unwavering commitment to social responsibility and providing exciting opportunities for children from all walks of life.
These include refugees and kids from marginalised backgrounds, creating a more accessible grassroots infrastructure that seeks out talent from a broader range of communities.
How German Clubs Continue to Blaze a Trail for Others to Follow
Interestingly, the prize for Best Professional Football Club from the perspective of its grassroots organisation was SV Werder Bremen, which launched the outstanding BallSchule scheme in 2020.
This saw the club fund and deliver PE lessons at nursery and primary schools throughout the local community, creating the provision for children to enjoy football and other sports across the board.
Overall, the team now operates more than 22 grassroots sides, with a view to optimising inclusion and providing high-quality coaching to players across all age ranges and genders.
Of course, this is yet another example of how Germany’s grassroots system remains second to none in Europe, with investment and focus remaining at incredibly consistent levels.
Certainly, the level and quality of investment in Germany should serve as an inspiration to others, including nations with similarly developed grassroots infrastructures such as England, Spain and Italy.
However, UEFA’s Grassroot Rewards also shed light on other successful leaders, countries and projects throughout Europe, while sharing lessons that we can all learn from within the beautiful game.