The stage is set for an extraordinary spectacle when the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup 2014 opens its doors for the 76th time on Wednesday 28 and Thursday 29 May.
Five of the world’s most successful clubs – Ghana’s Asante Kotoko, German powerhouse Bayern Munich, 41-time Greek league champions Olympiacos, Portuguese record breakers Benfica and local Zurich club Grasshoppers – will all compete over two days at the oldest international youth tournament in the world at the Buchlern sports complex in Zurich.
Bayern’s U-19 coach Heiko Vogel is already looking forward to the competition, saying: “The lads will enjoy some fantastic experiences and get a taste of international flair.” Current Switzerland goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, who took part in the event with the Hoppers three times between 2000 and 2002, remembers the experience fondly. “I’ve only got good memories of it,” he explained. “Back then, that tournament was pretty much the highlight of the season for us. It’s an extremely well organised event, right down to the last detail.”
The ten-strong line-up of teams competing is completed by Atletico Paranaense (Brazil), Villarreal (Spain), FC Sion (Switzerland), hosts FC Blue Stars Zurich and winners of the last two tournaments FC Zurich (Switzerland). FCZ are now unbeaten in the past four editions of the competition, as before their two wins, they were only defeated on penalties in the 2010 and 2011 finals.
A quick look at the history books shows just how quickly the tournament’s motto “Where Stars Are Born” can become a reality. Players such as Spain’s reigning world and European champion Gerard Pique and current Bayern manager Pep Guardiola, England’s Sir Bobby Charlton and David Beckham or Nigeria's Jay-Jay Okocha all made a name for themselves at the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup. 2013’s player of the tournament, Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj, is now vying for a starting berth with Belgium at next month's FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil.
It remains to be seen which of this year’s players will go on to flourish on the world stage but, given the calibre of the teams participating, it seems extremely likely that spectators will witness the talent of a global superstar in the making at the Buchlern sports complex this week.