Kaka: U-17 stars have a unique opportunity

  • Kaka is a native of Gama, where Brazil kick off their U-17 World Cup campaign

  • Former international says competing for Brazil is a privilege for these players

  • 2002 World Cup-winner looking forward to attending games in Gama

Brazilian legend Kaka was born in Gama, Brasilia, home of the Estadio Bezerrao, where A Seleção will kick off their FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019™ campaign on 26 October. Unsurprisingly, the 2007 FIFA World Player of the Year is delighted his home city will be sharing hosting duties for this major international tournament.

"I’m a native of Gama, in Brasilia," he told FIFA.com proudly. "For us Brazilians, it’s always very important to host events like the World Cup, the Olympics and now the U-17 World Cup. Knowing that the country is capable of staging these events is very important. For a satellite city like Gama, it’s very cool. The people who live around here can enjoy having the U-17 teams in their midst. It’s a privilege," he added.

In a recent visit to the Home of FIFA in Zurich, Kaka spoke about the different youth football categories in Brazil. A FIFA World Cup™ winner himself in 2002, when he was still just 20, the Auriverde icon never had the chance to represent his country at youth level. Even so, he understands that the upcoming U-17 World Cup is a special opportunity for his young compatriots as they embark on their careers.

"What I’d say to the Brazilian players who have the opportunity to compete in a tournament like this and wear the national team shirt, is to do so with a lot of love. These are unique opportunities as we never know what's going to happen in the future. And while that’s true in all walks of life, for young players it’s even more so.

"The lads who are playing U-17 don't know if they’ll go on to play U-20 or make it as a pro. So you guys have a unique opportunity. Enjoy it as best you can and play with pride, because it’s a privilege to wear the Brazilian national team shirt," he said.

For Kaka, the chance to play the U-17 World Cup on home soil is both a source of pressure and an opportunity for Brazil. The country can rightly boast of a long list of titles won by its youth teams, although their lack of success in recent years has been a source of bitter disappointment.

"It's a long time since Brazil won an U-17 World Cup," he said. "I think these tournaments are important, because they not only instil in the players the significance of representing your country, but also the importance of competing. You experience what it's like to compete with other nations, to have that pressure. This helps shape the character of these players. I believe the U-17 team can benefit from all this.

Last March, the U-17s were eliminated during the first stage of South American qualifying but would eventually qualify as hosts after Brazil took over the staging of the tournament from original hosts Peru.

"Our national youth teams are currently in a period of transition. The U-20s didn’t qualify for the last World Cup and this U-17 side wouldn’t have been at this World Cup had the hosting rights not been transferred to Brazil. This all serves as a warning to us. We’re still great at developing young players, but other sides have overtaken us now," he said.

Supporting role

Having hung up his boots, the former Sao Paulo, AC Milan and Real Madrid star says he hopes to attend some games at the U-17 World Cup. The match schedule in Brasilia (Gama), where he still has family, looks especially attractive. Brazil play twice at the Estadio Bezerrao during the group phase and could be back there again if they progress in the tournament.

"I’ll probably be in Brazil during this period and so would like to be part of it and watch those games," he said. "Brasilia is my city. My relatives live there – grandparents, uncles, cousins. If my schedule allows, I’d like to attend those World Cup games.

"I think it'll be really cool. It will feature extremely talented players. Even if they’re not regarded as great players at a global level, they’re certainly wonderful talents. It’ll be well worth attending."