David Beckham and Kaka are just two of the many football luminaries to have appeared at the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup as part of their football educations. Former Swiss national team coach Jakob Kuhn took part in the prestigious tournament a number of times as both player and coach. Even FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter was part of the FC Siders team which competed at the 1955 edition. Indeed, the world-renowned Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup boasts over 70 years of intriguing history and tradition.
Every year, just as spring begins to blossom in the Swiss metropolis, young hopefuls from some of the most famous clubs in the world gather for a festival of football, normally scheduled around Ascension Day (2 June). A quick glance at the winners of previous tournaments only confirms the illustrious list of clubs which place great store on sending a team to Zurich to compete for the coveted trophy.
Showdown of future stars
"The great hospitality and atmosphere encourages top performances. It's the best tournament I've taken part in throughout my entire career," said former England international Phil Neville in an interview with 'youthcup.ch' (link on the right). Along with his older brother Gary, the current Everton captain appeared in Zurich for Manchester United's youth team on numerous occasions during the 1990s. "It was and still is one of the best youth tournaments around. The standard is first-class, as are the teams, accommodation and catering."
Manchester United have made their mark on the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup like no other club, winning the tournament a phenomenal 18 times. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Benfica, Borussia Dortmund, Spartak Moscow, Inter and AC Milan, as well as Brazilian giants Sao Paolo and Gremio are further examples of the esteemed clubs to have lifted the trophy in the past.
Boca begin title defence
Reigning champions Boca Juniors of Argentina will be doing their utmost to defend their title at the upcoming edition on 1 and 2 June. Their challengers to the crown are FC Porto (Portugal), Napoli (Italy), Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia), Maccabi Haifa (Israel) and FC Salzburg (Austria), as well as four Swiss representatives: FC Thun, Grasshopper Zurich, FC Zurich and hosts FC Blue Stars.
Since its inception in 1939, 20 tournaments have been won by Swiss clubs, an indication of the importance of youth development in the host nation of the 1954 FIFA World Cup™. Indeed, the best outfield player at the last Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup was Oliver Buff of FC Zurich, who had previously been part of the Switzerland side which triumphed at the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Nigeria.
The tournament motto 'Where stars are born' has certainly proved an apt one. Performances of the highest level are demanded of every young hopeful, all of whom revel in the "carnival atmosphere" guaranteed by the hosts. Players also get the chance to expand thier horizons and learn about new cultures by interacting with other players from various clubs around the world.
Everyone's a winner
Though only one team can lift the trophy, there is certainly more than one winner at the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup. Thousands of spectators have the chance to get an early look at some of the game's future stars, who themselves will be hoping to move one step closer to their dreams of a professional career through their performances at the Buchlern sports facility.
"The trip to Zurich was the highlight of the season for the Manchester United youngsters back then. The tournament has an excellent reputation and it's one of the best in Europe, if not the world. Long may it continue," said United legend and former Wales international Ryan Giggs, who himself once showcased his dazzling skills at the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup.
It only remains to be seen which future global superstars will one day look back on the 2011 tournament as a stepping stone on their way to the top.