Juventus are once again Italian champions, winning the league title for a fifth successive year to equal the club record set between 1930 and 1935. Lucerne native Stephan Lichtsteiner had a solid campaign, and for him too it was a fifth consecutive championship - meaning no other Swiss player is currently as successful as the 32-year-old.
In 2002 Lichtsteiner participated at the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup with Grasshoppers Zurich. In this interview, the Switzerland international discusses his career and offers valuable advice to young players, insisting: "Quality and durability always shine through sooner or later."
FIFA.com: When you started playing football as a young boy, did you ever dream of one day captaining the Switzerland national team?
Stephan Lichtsteiner: Our current captain is still Gokhan Inler; I only stand in for him when he's absent. Generally, though, becoming captain was never something I thought about. I've always pushed myself to be a leader and a winner through my performances, passion, ambition, will to win and unbending winning mentality. I'm constantly aware of my responsibility; I don't need the captain's armband to feel that. As a young boy I dreamed of playing in the national team and representing my country with pride. I'm proud to have achieved that aim and to don my nation's colours.
Every career has to start somewhere and in 2002 you played at the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup with Grasshoppers Zurich. What are your memories of the tournament?
It was very well organised and was a great experience for young players. It's very enjoyable to compare yourself to the top young talents from across world. It's a good yardstick to see where you are. Tournaments like that are very good for individual development. I can't remember much else about it though because we finished somewhere in the middle of the pack, and whenever I play I want to win. Unfortunately we weren't able to do that.
You went on to play in the Serie A for Lazio, who also participated at the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup in 2002. Is that where they first contacted you?
No, definitely not. I'd recommend every player to just focus completely on football and not to ask themselves too many questions like that. Giving everything for your passion and aims every day is enough. Quality and durability always shine through sooner or later.
We were referring more to the fact that many well-known footballers currently playing in Italy, England or Germany also played at the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup. Ricardo Rodriguez, Admir Mehmedi, Xherdan Shaqiri, Joao Moutinho and Kaka, for example, are all famous names who stood out at the competition. As a player are you aware that big clubs are watching you at tournaments of this kind?
I wasn't really aware of that and to be completely honest it didn't matter to me. At the time I was playing for the best club in Switzerland with the best youth set-up and the best youth coaches. I knew that Grasshoppers were exactly the right club for me, which is why I moved to Zurich from FC Luzern after all. Other clubs, media attention, money… none of that played a role for my family and me. For me it was, and still is, all about football. Once your priorities start changing and the 'off-field things' gain grater importance, your performances definitely suffer.
How do you follow youth football nowadays?
At the moment mainly at my current club Juventus, where I regularly see the youth team players in training. In general I take an in interest in youth football. I think it's really exciting to observe the boys' development, both in terms of football and as people. A lot of things happen at that age. I'm happy to pass on my experience.
In your opinion, how important is the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup?
If the question is just referring to the prestige of the tournament then it's one I can't really answer and not one I'd like to give an answer to. When you're that age everything is more about the game than the prestige, and that's how it should be. That's absolutely the way things should stay. The tournament is a great experience for every young player who gets to participate at it. That's by far the most important thing. And that's why the tournament is very important for young players. In my opinion everything else is irrelevant and I hope the organisers are continually aware of that too.
What advice can you offer a young player looking to have a professional career?
It's very simple: just concentrate completely on football and have the desire to improve every day. You have to live football, devote yourself completely to this wonderful sport, always give your all whole-heartedly and never think that you know and can do everything. Live football as football, and not as a career or as a job. Never give up and never accept losing. Stay grounded and have a stable, healthy family around you. And despite the pressure to perform, never lose the enjoyment and passion for this fantastic sport.