Talent Show Anniversary
This year’s Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup is being staged in Zurich for the 70th time. Hundreds of football stars have already taken part in this tournament – one of the most famous youth competitions in the world.
In the age of casting shows, the anniversary celebration of one of the festivals that, year in year out, showcases emerging football talent, could not be more auspiciously timed. This year, the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup will be staged for the 70th time on 30 April and 1 May at the Buchlern sportsground in the Swiss metropolis of Zurich.
The fact that the tournament has reached such a ripe old age is thanks to Fritz Rey’s dogged determination. At a meeting of the board of local club Blue Stars on 3 December 1938, the then head of the youth committee expounded his plans to stage a tournament for young footballers. The board’s reaction to Rey’s idea was at first anything but exuberant but they finally gave the green light to the project when the man with the pioneering spirit agreed to charge any deficit incurred by the tournament to the club’s youth team account. The first tournament was held in 1939 and was expanded to international status in 1946. The first non-Swiss team to break into the honours list was Austria Vienna in 1947. Manchester United, who were pioneering youth development programmes way back in the mid-20th century, are the record holders, with 18 titles to their name. England’s most famous international, Sir Bobby Charlton, is a product of that training programme. The 1966 world champion took part in the competition in Zurich four times, helping his club to win the title at their first attempt in 1954.
Sir Bobby Charlton is only one of scores of international football celebrities who have taken part in the tournament arranged by the amateur club from Switzerland. Many budding footballers whose names appeared inconspicuously on the squad lists were later to enthral millions of football fans around the world. Subsequent British stars such as Bobby Moore, George Best, Mark Hughes, Norman Whiteside, Trevor Brooking and Ryan Giggs once graced the Letzigrund Stadium, as did Germans such as Helmut Haller, Markus Babbel and Didi Hamann, Nigeria’s virtuoso Augustine “Jay-Jay” Okocha, Switzerland’s Johann Vogel und Hakan Yakin, Italy’s Fulvio Collovati and Spain’s Ivan de la Pena and Albert Ferrer. In 1994, a youngster in Manchester United colours, who was later to become a sports and advertising idol, also made his debut – David Beckham, alongside players such as Paul Scholes, Gary and Phil Neville and Nicky Butt formed the backbone of the record-breaking team, who, however, in that year succumbed to Barcelona.
In 1991, FIFA took the event under its wing and four years later it was renamed the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup. “FIFA has its headquarters in Zurich so naturally would like to support a football initiative in the city,” commented Joseph S. Blatter, President of world football’s governing body, at the time. “What could fit the bill better than a youth tournament?”
While the Letzigrund was being refurbished in 2007, the Blue Stars/ FIFA Youth Cup moved to the attractive sportsground of Buchlern, which will again form an appropriate backdrop to the tournament this year. The extended mini-stadium has room for 6,200 spectators. It is the first time that the tournament has started in April and anyone born on or after 1 January 1988 will be eligible to play. The defending champions are Partizan Belgrade. And every onlooker will have his eyes peeled on the action and will be predicting the new Charlton, the emerging Beckham or the legitimate successor to Haller or Okocha.
BLUE STARS/FIFA YOUTH CUP 2008
Participants (split into two groups of five): CR Flamengo (Brazil), Hamburg SV (Germany), Partizan Belgrade (Serbia), Manchester United (England), AEK Athens (Greece), Villarreal (Spain), FC Blue Stars, FC Zurich, Grasshoppers, FC Basel (all Switzerland).
Tournament Champions From 1991 to 2007
1991: Spartak Moscow
1992: Spartak Moscow
1997: FC Basel
1999: Sao Paulo
2000: Sao Paulo
2002: Boca Juniors
2004: Manchester United
2005: Manchester United
2007: Partizan Belgrade
37 different tournament winners from a total of 14 countries. Most successful clubs: Manchester United (18 titles), Grasshoppers (6).