"Of course, we're disappointed, but we were playing against a very high-quality opponent," said U19 head coach Marcel Rapp directly after the final whistle in reference to FC Porto. "All in all, it was a wonderful experience to have simply been involved here. We've come a long way." Meanwhile, captain Benjamin Wallquist said the semi-final defeat was part and parcel of the development process. "We definitely won't make the mistakes that we made today anymore."
The Hoffenheim squad watched the second semi-final between Chelsea and Barcelona − a repeat of the 2018 final which the London club won 7-6 in a penalty shootout following a 2-2 stalemate in normal time − at the hotel before all the teams gathered at UEFA headquarters for a BBQ in the evening. As well as the stunning view over the water and Alps, the reception area at the home of European football's governing body on the shores of Lake Geneva is basically a museum of European football. On display are shirts of legendary international/club teams and football icons of decades gone by, videos of goals from all the European finals and the trophies of all the big competitions.
TSG trio take part in blind football project
Since there were still some compulsory commitments on the agenda on Saturday, the return flight from Geneva was not scheduled until 17:55 CET. In the early morning, the Hoffenheim players Alexander Nitzl, Daniel Klein and Joshua Keßler lent their support to a UEFA solidarity project. In cooperation with the Swiss Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (SBV), the Union of European Football Associations regularly holds blind football events. With patches to cover their eyes and experts to give them instructions, the TSG trio experienced what it is like to play football without the power of sight. The specially made ball makes sounds for the purpose of orientation – but stopping, dribbling and especially passing it is another matter entirely.
At the same time, three TSG officials represented the club at the traditional staff match – and delivered a masterful performance. Playing alongside the representatives of FC Barcelona, they beat a team formed of Chelsea and Porto officials 4-3, forming an almost insurmountable back line and having a hand in three of the goals. And that was despite being the only players on the wet artificial pitch to be wearing trainers. For the record: the winner was a goal made in Hoffenheim, with delegation leader René Ottinger crossing for team manager Frederic Fass to head home at the back post.
Presentations in the UEFA meeting room
At 11:00 CET, all the players and officials gathered in the very meeting room in which the draws for all the major club competitions take place − for an "educational session". Michael Heselschwerdt, the Director of UEFA Club Competitions, kicked off the two-hour event with a short presentation of the association and a Youth League quiz, before giving the floor to Roberto Rosetti, a former referee. The Italian official, who notably refereed the EURO 2008 final between Germany and Spain, gave an emotional presentation about VAR. He showed some controversial scenes from recent Champions League matches, accompanied by voice recordings which demonstrated how the decision-making process works behind the scenes − in the VAR room − and what the communication between the match officials and the video assistant referees is like. "It's about ensuring fairness in football," said a passionate Rosetti during an emotional presentation during which he frequently got the players in the auditorium involved.
Of equal interest − even if it was less easy for the youngsters to grasp − was the topic of "safe financial planning", conducted by the Spaniard Juan de Dios Sánchez-Roselly. As part of his financial training, he spoke about the financial traps that can be waiting in store for the players when they sign their first professional contract. False friends, bad advisers or imprudent handling of money earned at a young age. These are topics that are regularly covered in Hoffenheim too.
Financial tips from Gaizka Mendieta and David James
So as to not come across as a desk jockey just pointing an incriminating finger, the finance expert invited two former players from the world of football, who backed up his statements and answered questions posed by the youngsters: Gaizka Mendieta, a former international who played for Valencia, and David James, who spent many years plying his trade for Liverpool and played in between the sticks for the English national team at the 2010 World Cup at the age of 39.
"Forty percent of all professionals don't have a cent to their name five years after ending their career," said Sánchez-Roselly, citing a shockingly high statistic that would give the youngsters something to think about. The teams then ate together one last time before the TSG Hoffenheim contingent began their journey home around 16:00 CET.
When Porto and Chelsea square off in the Youth League final on Monday evening, many of the Hoffenheim players will be watching live on TV. Then it may finally dawn on them just how fantastic their achievement has been. They were only 90 minutes away from the final, and being crowned European champions.