European teams ready for Durban Under-19 International Football Tournament
Posted: 2 July 2014 Time: 23:51
Sparks are expected to fly when Everton of England, Portugal’s Benfica, Italian giants Roma and Dutch club Feyenoord bring their best Under-19 players to KwaZulu-Natal.
The four European sides will compete at the prestigious Durban Under-19 International Football Tournament, scheduled from July 31 to August 9.
These traditional giants with a proven track record of developing some of the top talent in the world have expressed their excitement at competing at an event that is one of the highlights of the junior football calendar around the world in 2014.
For Everton one can count among their former scholars current England stars Wayne Rooney, Ross Barkley and John Stones, while Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka also spent some time in their academy before leaving for elsewhere, only to return later on as professionals.
'The Toffees' is also the home of former Bafana Bafana captain Steven Pienaar, who remains an integral part of the team there.
There is much excitement about the current crop of junior players and first team coach Roberto Martinez says they will continue to go from strength to strength.
“The Academy is more of a focus of the football club, rather than having individuals,” Martinez said. “We have fantastic coaches and fantastic people ready to help that path and we will always make sure our youngsters have every opportunity to develop.
“But that's where the focus is; not on the coaches – it's in the quality of the youngsters and the programs that allows them to fulfill that potential. Over the years we have seen that irrespective of whom the coaches are, the talent comes through, and that will always be the biggest strength of our football club.”
From the current crop of players in the Academy, ones to watch include Polish goalkeeper Mateusz Taudul, defender Jonjoe Kenny and striker Calum Dyson.
Everton, from the city of Liverpool, are one of the most successful clubs in English football history having won nine league titles, five FA Cup finals and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1985 – ironically perhaps claiming the trophy in the Dutch city of Rotterdam where Feyenoord are based.
The Netherlands team has long had links to Africa with an Academy in Ghana and a previous partnership with South African Premier Soccer League side SuperSport United.
Bafana Bafana midfielder Kamohelo Mokotjo was developed by SuperSport and Feyenoord and last season was one of the top midfielders in the Dutch league with current club PEC Zwolle. Orlando Pirates striker Kermit Erasmus took the same route.
Current Netherlands international and Manchester United star Robin van Persie is one of their more famous recent graduates, along with current Holland teammate Leroy Fer.
The coach of their Under-19 side, Roy Makaay, a former Holland international who played in Spain with Derportivo La Coruna and in Germany with Bayern Munich, says the Durban Under-19 International Football Tournament will be of huge benefit to his side.
“Taking part in such a tournament is an opportunity for our players to play good matches versus professional teams,” Makaay says. “In this way they can compare their own level to the level of other international youth players. Also it is a great experience for young players to take part in such a tournament in South Africa.
“For me, as a coach, it is good to have a trip like this in the preseason. We can work hard, play matches, talk with the players, and have fun, this all in preparation of the league which will start in August.”
Benfica are another club with deep roots in Africa, not least because arguably their greatest ever play, Eusebio, was from Mozambique.
The club, based in Lisbon, is the most supported in Portugal and has the largest share of support. They are currently riding the crest of a wave having won the Portuguese League and cup ‘Double’, and made the final of the UEFA Europa League for the last two seasons.
Academy general manager Armando Jorge Carneiro says the club is looking for to the clash of footballing styles in Durban.
“It is a huge honour for Benfica to be invited to participate in a tournament in South Africa,” Carneiro said. “We are delighted by the invitation and excited about the possibility of sharing experiences with other teams recognised in the international football scene.
“This tournament is a good example for the development of football training and to approach the footballing cultures of different continents.”
The most famous graduate of the Roma academy is the current club captain, the legendary former Italy international Francesco Totti.
The 37-year-old made his debut for the club in 1993 and is still playing, some 561 appearances and 235 goals later.
Roma’s youth programme is renowned world-wide and they have schools across the world; that are developing young players based on the philosophy of the club.
“We are very pleased to participate in the Durban Under-19 International Football Tournament,” said club CEO Italo Zanzi. “We look forward to facing strong competition from around the world and continuing to grow the international reach of our youth program.”
Roma and Benfica have been drawn in Group A in Durban alongside Argentine giants Boca Juniors and KwaZulu-Natal Academy XI, while Everton and Feyenoord are in Group B alongside Brazilian side Santos and a South African Under-19 national team selection.