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, July 14.
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," said FFA president Artur Vanetsyan in a conversation with UEFA.com. "We hope that, over the next couple of weeks, the children who watch the competition will become inspired to get involved in football."
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 current HatTrick cycle, which runs until 2020, will lead to a total of €610.5m being distributed among UEFA's 55 federations over a four-year period. In each previous cycle, more than 70% of the funding was invested to upgrade infrastructure, such as pitches, stadiums and national training centres, in order to guarantee that everyone has access to football.
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.
UEFA has been quick to acknowledge Armenia's success in strengthening the game's grassroots. Senik Arakelyan was recognised for his work with children in the Shirak region with first prize in the category of Best Leader at the 2017 UEFA Grassroots Awards.
Hosting the UEFA European U19 Championships will be a historic event for Armenia, with matches taking place in three stadiums in Yerevan. To help the FFA prepare for it, a workshop was held earlier this year between Armenian football's governing body and the English Football Association under the aegis of the UEFA GROW initiative.
As has been the case since 2018, UEFA GROW will continue to work with the FFA after the tournament is over by giving support and expertise in areas such as participation and strategic communications in order to make sure the future of football in Armenia is bright for generations to come.