When football’s brightest young talents meet for the 79th Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup in a few weeks time, they will be following in the footsteps of giants. Global stars including Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Klaus Augenthaler, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Josep Guardiola all had their first experiences of international club competition in Zurich.
FIFA.com hears from several Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup alumni about the tournament held at the Buchlern sports complex.
"It’s important for the lads to see that they can take on teams from across the world, with all their talented individuals, as equals. That creates an interesting pressure – positive stress."
Boris Smiljanic, former Switzerland international (3 caps) and coach of 2016 champions Grasshoppers
"Young players need to learn, and they can only do that with trips abroad to events like the Youth Cup. It gives us the opportunity to show what we can do. By travelling abroad for the past two years, we have not only learned a lot but gained plenty of experience too. Every overseas trip helps Chinese football."
Marco Pezzaiuoli, youth coach for 2016 participants Guangzhou Evergrande
"The tournament is extremely well organised and a fantastic experience for young players. It’s a lot of fun to be able to test your skills against top international talent. It gives you a good idea of where you stand. These competitions are very good for individual development. At this age it’s much more about the football itself rather than the prestige, and that’s great. Players need to try and maintain that attitude. This tournament is a super experience for every young player who competes in it, and that’s by far the most important thing. That’s why the youngsters themselves hold the event in such high regard. Everything else is irrelevant to me and I hope the organisers will always be aware of that."
Stephan Lichtsteiner, 2002 participant, now at Juventus with 88 caps for Switzerland
"The Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup really is a prestigious and fantastic tournament with a consistently impressive field of competitors. The event was always packed with big names and it was certainly a wonderful experience for us to be able to compete there."
Markus Babbel, 1990-92 participant, 51 caps for Germany, European champion 1996
"As a young player, the event gives you the opportunity to play against good teams from all over the world. You don’t get that kind of chance very often at junior level. Plenty of things are vital for your development as a youth player: good coaches, good environment, good team-mates and, of course, good opponents."
Admir Mehmedi, 2007-09 participant, 2008 champion, 51 caps for Switzerland
"I only have good memories of it. Back then, the tournament was practically the highlight of the season for us. It’s exceptionally well organised and leaves nothing to be desired. While there’s no doubt that it’s a very good shop window, the most important thing for me was to see that we could hold our own against players our age from major international clubs. It was a very valuable experience for me."
Diego Benaglio, 2000-02 participant, 2001 winner, 61 caps for Switzerland
"Great tournament, top-quality teams, fantastic organisation! For me it was important to play plenty of tournaments, not just in my own country but also abroad, to see how I measured up against strong opposition. Getting to know other teams and cultures is exciting. Every country has its own mentality, and that makes the experience interesting for young players."
Euzebiusz Smolarek, 2000 participant, 47 caps for Poland