Wednesday 10 May 2023, 08:00

Kaka: The Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup is an amazing tournament

While injury prevented Kaka from showcasing his skills when he travelled to the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup™ in 2000, the Brazilian legend retains cherished memories from the tournament, having been part of a triumphant Sao Paulo squad.

Ahead of the 2023 edition of the illustrious competition, which takes place in Zurich on 17 and 18 May, FIFA caught up with the former FIFA World Player of the Year to reflect on his experiences in Switzerland. Kaka was a fresh-faced 18-year-old when he set off for the event at the beginning of the millennium, and explained how observing elite international teams at close quarters was of huge value.

“To be on that kind of stage for a young guy is a big, big motivation and inspiration,” said Kaka. “I was injured but I remember the experience of being there.

“For me at the time, I was a young guy dreaming of being a professional footballer. It is always a pleasure when you have an international tournament, to see a different country and compete with big clubs around the world.

“This is such a platform for these young players to show themselves because you are going to be pressured, you're going to have the media there, and a lot of people around the world watching you. Maybe big clubs will also be watching you. You start tasting what professional football is.”

Sao Paulo celebrate winning the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup in 2000

This year’s Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup features a stellar line-up which includes the likes of Liverpool, Marseille and reigning champions Basel.

The tournament boasts a rich and storied history. It was inaugurated in 1939 by FC Blue Stars, the first club in Switzerland to have a dedicated youth programme. Bobby Charlton, Pep Guardiola and David Beckham are among the players who have graced the competition over the years.

A women’s edition was launched in 2018 and runs concurrently with the male tournament. Among the teams competing in this year’s women’s event are Arsenal, Juventus and 2022 winners FC Zurich.

The finals of the men’s and women’s tournaments will be streamed live on FIFA+, with highlights from every match also available on the platform. Kaka urged fans to seize the opportunity to watch potential future superstars in action.

“It is an amazing tournament, with high-quality organisation and high-quality games,” he said. “When you watch youth tournament, you want to see good matches, good players, a good environment – and a great overall experience of sport. For sure, the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup is one of the best.”

Read more from Kaka on the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup below…

Kaka, I know you were injured and were unable to play for Sao Paulo when they won the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup in 2000, but what do you remember about that experience and your team?

First of all, it's really nice to speak about that tournament, to travel back and remember great moments with my team-mates. I remember my team-mates well, because we grew up together in Sao Paulo, playing together and having a good time. Most of those players are still my friends today. One was even my best man at my wedding, Marcelo Saragosa. He played for many years in MLS in USA. He has sent me some pictures from the Blue Stars tournament and with people we met there. We had many very good other players too. It was a great team.

How do tournaments like the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup help prepare young players for the future?

In my opinion, these competitions provide a very good way to learn and improve, to be better personally and collectively. For example, for Brazilian players, it's one thing to compete here in Brazil, but most of the time it is against the same players, the same coaches and the same [style of] Brazilian football. When you play against the international clubs, you see different players and football academies, and different tactics. In my opinion, we need even more competitions like this.

Why do you believe youth football in Brazil is so successful and the country produces so many top players?

Brazil is a very good example of how a big country can organise its football to keep improving players. I think we are the number one country in producing professional footballers. If you look the UEFA Champions League, for instance, there are so many Brazilians playing in it. It's an honour for us [to develop players]. It's part our tradition and part of our future. We grow up playing football at home, at the beach, on the streets. It's part of our lives, the first gift we give to the kids is a football! I think that creates the dream of being a footballer. Also, the best thing is that football can help you develop good sporting values and to be a better person for society.

A team from your home country, Corinthians, are taking part in this year’s tournament. How will that benefit them?

It’s a good opportunity to see how they will perform against different tactics and different ways of playing. For example, I don’t believe Corinthians have ever had the chance to play a team like Liverpool before, so it will be a great opportunity to have this challenge. This is very valuable. We will see which team plays the best, but I think Brazilian teams always perform very well in these international tournaments.

We also now have a women’s edition of the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup tournament. How important is that for the development of women’s football?

It is great. It is very important [to stage these events] to improve the game. It’s the same as I said for the men's side, it will be great for the teams to play against different players, tactics and football academies. We have to invest in women's football and this is the support we need to give them. This opportunity – an international tournament like the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup – will for sure improve their quality even more.