What do Borja (Spain), Carlos Vela (Mexico), Cesc Fabregas (Spain), Florent Sinama Pongolle (France), Adriano (Brazil) and Marcel Witeczek (Germany) have in common? In the 26-year history of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, they and a clutch of other players have won the adidas Golden Boot awarded to the top scorer at the tournament.
Witeczek occupies a special place on the roll of honour, as he picked up the award for the best striker at the first edition of the tournament in the People's Republic of China back in 1985.
“Prior to the tournament, I didn't even think about it once. Personal success just wasn't important to me. But the way things worked out, I scored lots of goals in the important matches. Naturally, at the end of the day I was proud and really excited about winning the award. But we didn't win the World Cup [Germany lost 2-0 to Nigeria in the final], so the overwhelming emotion was devastation at missing out on the trophy," the former striker exclusively revealed to FIFA.com.
“In my case, it was the first real long-distance trip overseas I'd ever made. It was all really exciting, playing a World Cup in China, so I retain a lot of memories from that time." Nowadays, the trophy has a special position in the honours collection displayed in Witeczek’s cellar office.
The former pro, now 43 years of age, hit the heights in China PR but never really made the same impression on the global stage again. He did finish as a FIFA World Cup runner-up for a second time with his country’s U-20s two years later, but he never earned a full international cap. “Breaking into the senior side was very difficult at the time. The competition was fierce, I was up against Jurgen Klinsmann and company. But I'm entirely happy and comfortable with what I achieved," he said.
They need to keep their feet on the ground and keep pushing themselves, or they'll never make it as pros.
His club career provided far more by way of highlights, as he won the Bundesliga title twice and the UEFA Cup once with Bayern Munich. These days, Witeczek is a sports consultant to an insurance company, and perhaps unsurprisingly, devotes his time to youth development. “Part of my brief is to visit schools and clubs where I work with the youth section. I try and outline the appeal of sport, and motivate the kids to take up physical activity."
It goes without saying that he is closely following developments at the current FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico, and is impressed by what he has seen so far from the latest young German generation. “We have a good team over there. They attack a lot and they're free-scoring, which is obviously very positive. Steffen Freund's team are doing everything right."
Witeczek finished the 1985 finals on eight goals, a total only beaten prior to the current tournament by Sinama Pongolle of France, who scored a goal more in 2001. However, Côte d'Ivoire hitman Souleymane Coulibaly has equalled that record this summer, scoring his nine goals in a mere four matches.
“But just because a player scores that many goals at the group stage doesn't necessarily indicate higher quality. It's more likely that the teams who qualified weren't evenly matched," a rather sceptical Witeczek commented. Nevertheless, Coulibaly is in pole position to claim this year's adidas Golden Boot, although Samed Yesil of Germany and Brazil's Ademilson are still contenders.
Witeczek's advice to the best junior footballers in the world is to stay calm and collected, regardless of the outcome in Mexico. “The lads mustn't let up, but the good thing is that most of the players nowadays are already attached to big clubs. In my day, lots of the guys came from much smaller clubs. Today's players are much better prepared for this situation. But they need to keep their feet on the ground and keep pushing themselves, or they'll never make it as pros. If they do, they might end up with the best job in the world."