- Boca Juniors will compete at the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup
- Many Argentina stars started out at Casa Rosada
- "The Boca academy has everything that young, talented players need"
The Boca Juniors players who take to the pitch in Zurich at the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup may still only be teenagers, but they will be representing one of the giants of South American football, a club with a rich and colourful history. Two-time winners of the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup in 2002 and 2010, Boca academy is known the world over. So will the crowd at May's tournament be treated to a glimpse of the next superstar?
There are 3.6 kilometres between the world-famous Casa Rosada, from where First Lady Eva Peron once waved to the crowds from the balcony, to La Bombonera, the home of Boca Juniors. Just far enough for a leisurely stroll through the sights and sounds of the Argentinian capital to the imposing concrete structure built between 1938 and 1940 in the middle of the colourful La Boca district, the place to go for dancing tango in the streets.
The stadium currently holds 49,000, a modest figure that has often been mocked, as most other clubs of world renown can call upon the home support of far more fans. Anyone who has been to La Bombonera, however, knows that this stadium is not about size but about emotion, with fans creating such a din that the ground is said to shake under their feet. “I’ve never known anything like it,” says Christian Giménez, formerly of Boca and FC Basel. “It gets so loud that you can’t even hear your team-mates. For me, it’s the best stadium in the world.”
Translated literally, La Bombonera (officially the Estadio Alberto J. Armando) means “the Chocolate Box”; legend has it that the stadium’s nickname came from the architect who received a box of chocolates for his birthday, and he quickly noticed that the box reminded him of the stadium he was designing. To this very day, a trip to the venerable, steep-sided arena remains sweet temptation for any football fan visiting Buenos Aires, and even though rumours often abound that the club may be looking to move to a bigger, more modern arena, any plans to that end are quickly dismissed out of hand. For Boca’s fans, there is simply no place like home. No other club in South America has a brand as strong as Boca’s, one built upon passion, heart and, yes, even the odd crack or two in the stadium’s concrete structure.
Boca has always been a workers’ club, ever since the early 20th century when it was founded by a group of dockers from Italy on 3 April 1905. They arranged games not far from the harbour, where there was a small stadium with wooden stands on the ground where La Bombonera now stands. It was to be the start of an impressive, trophy-laden story, as Boca have gone on to win 18 international titles, including six Copa Libertadores. Long is the list of famous players who have started out at Boca too, products of a professional academy that in recent decades has come to be known as “The Boca Factory” by training world-class player after world-class player – Carlos Tevez (Manchester United, Juventus, etc.), Fernando Gago (Real Madrid, AS Roma, etc.) and Juan Roman Riquelme (FC Barcelona etc.) to name but three. “The Boca academy has everything that young, talented players need,” says Giménez. “It’s no coincidence that many of them go on to enjoy great careers.”
La Bombonera is packed to the rafters for every game too, and the club once calculated that they would easily be able to sell 250,000 season tickets every year. Putting yourself on a waiting list is rather pointless too as the tickets simply stay in families, passed down from one generation to the next. One person who doesn’t have to worry about tickets though is none other than Diego Maradona – Boca have given their favourite son a lifetime VIP box.