Reigning champions Grasshopper Club are raring to begin the defence of their Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup crown at the 2017 edition of the competition in their home city of Zurich.

Held on 24 and 25 May 2017, this year’s tournament features FC Blue Stars, FC Zurich, West Ham United, Anderlecht and Benfica, who all competed alongside the holders in 2016, and welcomes Independiente Santa Fe, Mainz, Lyon and St Gallen.

GCZ coach Boris Smiljanic spoke to youthcup.ch about the 79th edition of the prestigious youth competition at the Buchlern sports complex.

How often have you thought about Grasshoppers’ triumph in this tournament over the past year and what feelings have these memories triggered?
Boris Smiljanic: They are very good feelings, naturally. Being able to win such a prestigious tournament makes you feel proud and happy. Things didn’t go too well for us in 2015, and we couldn’t do what we set out to do. We did much better last year, and were able to show what we were capable of from the very start. It became clear to me at quite an early stage that the trophy was absolutely within reach. We believed that and ultimately deserved to win.

Few teams have ever succeeded in winning the tournament two years running.
That’s because the cards are always being reshuffled. Mainz, Lyon and Santa Fe are all new to the tournament this year, and they all have extremely strong academies. The question is whether every team will be travelling to Zurich with their best players. I remember our final opponents last year, West Ham United, were in the English U-19 cup final at the same time as the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup. I certainly don’t think they sent their best team to Switzerland.

Do you think it will be a different story at this year’s tournament?
Yes, I think it might be. At GCZ, we have a duty to put out our strongest side; after all, the competition is always a season highlight for my players! The Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup is played in Zurich, in our city, the home of Grasshoppers, FC Zurich and FC Blue Stars. The tournament is extremely important to us. As coaches, we prepare professionally for the whole thing because, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s one of the high points of the season for our players.

What makes this tournament so special, and what emotions does it generate for you?
The Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup is a household name for anyone working in football, particularly those involved with youth development. For me, hearing the word ‘FIFA’ associated with a tournament is something special. Wherever FIFA are involved, you know there’s plenty of potential for good football. The whole thing is incredibly special to me. The atmosphere at the venue is truly unique and fits the occasion perfectly, both at Letzigrund previously and now at Buchlern. As if that wasn’t enough, the organisation is first-class and the additional activities on offer for children and young people are practical and well thought out. There’s something for everyone.

What are your expectations for this year?
We want to defend our title from last year at all costs. We’re certainly not going to the tournament to be satisfied with finishing in second or third place. The team know what’s required and what they have to deliver on the pitch. If we can do that, it will be difficult to beat us – but it all has to come together at the right time!