Behind the scenes: laying out the perfect pitches for the Europa League and Europa Conference League | UEFA Europa League

The improvement of playing surfaces continues to drive the development of football to the highest level in Europe and, as this article sponsored by Engelbert Strauss confirms, specialist pitch gardeners have benefited from enormous advances.

“Innovation is becoming increasingly important in the field of pitch quality,” says Lee Guerreiro, a pitch and technology specialist working in UEFA’s Football Operations Unit. “Hybrid or reinforced pitches and most technologies have a huge impact on player quality.”

These modern surfaces, which combine artificial and natural grass, help to reduce wear and tear throughout the season. Guerreiro explains: “Today, when you see elite soccer fields on television, it is very rare to see the goals with a massive loss of grass like you used to see in the 90s, so technology has already improved considerably the playing conditions”.

“The equipment that gardeners use: the mowers, the lighting equipment, the artificial light that we can provide to a field to facilitate growing conditions, the types of fertilizers, the products and the seeds, everything has improved a lot and that helps gardeners to offer higher quality fields.

“Requirements and expectations have increased a lot in football,” acknowledges freelance agronomist Stefano Meli, whose assignment with local authorities in Florence includes the pitch at Fiorentina’s Artemio Franchi Stadium. Technology has made some parts of his job easier, but there are still plenty of people involved in making sure the pitches are in tip-top condition.

Showing the UEFA camera crew the work his team carried out the day after a Fiorentina match, he explained: “The first job was done by hand: dressing and fixing the pitch, then we used the machines to remove dry and damaged grass. We then used biostimulant treatments to restore the plants, so they would root and have stronger leaves.”

After a quick mow of the grass, the pitch furniture is replaced (new lines drawn, flags replaced) and the Meli pitches are once again ready for use. And Guerreiro’s job is to ensure that all pitches used for matches in UEFA competitions are maintained to a similar level of quality.

Guerreiro affirms: “the aesthetics of the pitch is important to us, how the pitch looks to the spectators and on television, because it clearly represents the club, it represents UEFA, the city and the brand of the competition.”

However, if modern technology is helping to raise standards, Guerreiro acknowledges that very modern issues are also giving gardeners new headaches.

“Climate change is a big problem for us,” he says. “We have had very hot summers and very cold winters, and that has a lot to do with the work of the gardeners. We have to try to help them in these difficult processes as much as we can.”

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