Champions League

Champions League legends help promote sustainable pitches for at-risk population

Chris Deeley
Claudio Marchisio & Nadine Keßler at the Lays event
Claudio Marchisio & Nadine Keßler at the Lays event / PepsiCo

Claudio Marchisio is a deity in Turin. Being around football means that you get used to seeing little flocks of autograph hunters swooping down on players when given half a chance and a heads up, but seeing the man who spent 25 years at his hometown club in his element is something else entirely.

He's not just aware of it though, he welcomes it. Chatting to 90min in a rare moment of peace at the launch of the new Lay's RePlay pitch in his city – the fourth of its kind around the world, aiming to support hundreds of young people and women at risk of social exclusion – his almost evangelical enthusiasm for giving back what Turin gave him is clear.

"It's very important to have places like this, because areas like this in cities need safe places for families, for girls and for boys, where they can meet and stay safe, spend some time making new friends and learning something. Even apart from them playing football, this could be the chance that sport has to give people to create their own realities, to make new friends, to see that their dream can become true, like mine did.

"I really want to stress the importance of this duty of sports, not only that sports can do this, but that it's a duty of sports to protect youth and allow them to be integrated and maybe find their own career for the future.

"I don't do it because it's a pleasure for me, but a responsibility that I feel any athlete, like I was, has. I grew up in this city, I know what it means to be lucky enough to become a top player, but if my presence or a piece of advice can help a child revive their own dream then that's a pleasure for me, and it's part of my own responsibilities."

The Lay's RePlay initiative has seen the brand – in partnership with the UEFA Foundation for Children and streetfootballworld – work to bring football pitches to communities in need, as well as providing 18 hours of weekly football education sessions over the next year for this latest venture in Turin.

The pitch is made of 32% recycled crisp packets too (don't worry, it doesn't sound like a crisp packet when you run on it) and the rest is made from 100% recyclable materials, including the shockpad layer beneath the turf.

Nadine Kessler, UEFA's chief of women's football, told 90min at the pitch's unveiling that the program will help the continued growth of the women's game in particular, with the availability of pitches at the grassroots – or crisp packet-roots? – key, in alignment with the football education sessions.

Kessler poses on the new pitch
Kessler poses on the new pitch / PepsiCo

"We need both the role models, the big stages and the headlines to drive interest and visibility, combined with the access on the ground when you're very young – it's important to be welcomed in your community, on the pitch next door. That's where the majority of the perceptions are being changed, and parents' perceptions are being changed.

"I played only with boys until I was 16, we played day and night on a pitch like this next to my parents' house. I know how important this is, how hard it is to get into it and show the boys how good you are. It's where the first prejudices are being fought, so I really appreciate not just the pitch but the educational programs, to show that we belong here.

"The rise in quality in the women's game is down in part to things like this. The more players there are, the more talent comes out of it. At the elite level the investment's been enormous from the clubs and the federations, and the conditions we've been fighting for have improved immensely. It's possible these days to become a professional women's footballer, there were very few when I was growing up."

The day after the unveiling, the pitch was used for the Italian final of the all-women’s Gatorade 5v5 tournament – the two PepsiCo brands working together to feed off their sponsorship of the Women's Champions League final that weekend to make a real statement about their commitment to the women's game at all levels.

Kessler, for what it's worth, had her doubts about whether Barcelona would beat Lyon in that weekend's final to enshrine themselves as the latest great women's team in Europe. And we all know what happened there...

Unfortunately, she didn't follow up with any handy betting tips for the summer's European Championships. "Germany will be in a good shape," she said, "but there are a lot of countries who can win the Euros. The top 16 teams in Europe have become really close, and I'm looking forward to the duels we'll see. I can't give you a prediction!"