On 12 and 13 May 2010 the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup will be played for the 72nd time in Zurich. Countless future greats of the game have featured in the long-running tournament, rated one of the best junior events in the world.
Founded in 1898, FC Blue Stars are one of Zurich's oldest football clubs. In 1921, Blue Stars were among the first Swiss clubs to establish a separate youth section, before expanding their programme to incorporate an annual tournament in 1939, where Grasshoppers became the first winners entered into the Golden Book. The 1941 event was the first to be staged at the Letzigrund stadium in Zurich. The municipality stepped in as patron as 16 teams battled for the trophy. With penalty shoot-outs yet to be invented, Young Fellows were declared winners by the drawing of lots, following a draw with FC Lugano after extra time.
Austria Vienna became the first overseas winners in 1947, defending their crown a year later. Wolverhampton Wanderers were the first English team to take part in 1951, establishing a tradition which continues to the present day. Almost all the major English clubs have taken part at some time or other. The Manchester United team which contested the 1956 tournament included a certain Bobby Charlton, destined to lift the FIFA World Cup™ in his own country 12 years later. Germany's Helmut Haller contested the Zurich event that year. In 1966, he was to line up opposite Charlton in the Final at Wembley.
Greats of the game
The cup remained in Swiss hands in the early seventies, as BSC Young Boys, Grasshopper Club and Lausanne Sports took the trophy from 1970 to 1972, but the biggest names from around Europe steadily made their presence felt. Fulvio Collovati, a FIFA World Cup winner with Italy in 1982, was a member of the AC Milan team which claimed the 1977 honours in Zurich. The tournament went on to feature the likes of Klaus Augenthaler, Mark Hughes, Markus Babbel, Roy Keane and Didi Hamann.
FIFA assumed patronage of the tournament in 1991, before it was renamed the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup four years later. The idea originated with then General Secretary and now FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, who once contested the tournament with FC Sierre and is himself an honorary member of FC Blue Stars.
Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Augustin Jay-Jay Okocha, Nicky Butt, Josep Guardiola, Paul Scholes and Gary and Phillip Neville are just a few of the future stars who appeared in Zurich with their youth teams in the nineties.
In 1999, Sao Paulo became the first non-European winners, defeating Zurich on penalties in the final in front of a passionate 11,000 crowd at the Letzigrund. European teams returned to the podium in 2003 as Roma defeated Celta Vigo 2-1 in the final. Manchester United claimed the trophy in 2004 and repeated their triumph the following year to make it 18 wins in total, a record which naturally stands to this day.
In 2008 and 2009 Swiss clubs dominated the competition again. FC Zurich won the final two years ago against neighbours FC Basel, while Manchester United and Hamburger SV could only finish third and fourth respectively.
Last year Basel won out, and the final was again played by two Swiss teams in which Grasshopper-Club lost against the previous year's finalist. FC Zurich finished third and made the podium places all Swiss.
It will be interesting to see if the Swiss clubs can dominate once more this year against teams from Argentina (Boca Juniors), South Africa (Kaizer Chiefs), Spain (RCD Mallorca), Mexico (CF América), Scotland (Celtic Glasgow) and Germany (Borussia Dortmund). Although there is no way to predict the winners, one thing is certain: the fans can expect a tournament full of tradition and quality once again.