3 July 2014
Top-class football will be on the cards when Everton of England, Portugal’s Benfica, Italian giants Roma and legendary Dutch club Feyenoord bring their best under-19 players to Durban, South Africa next month.
The European sides, along with teams from Santos (Brazil) and Boca Juniors (Argentina), a specially selected South African under-19 side and a KwaZulu-Natal Academy XI, will be taking part in the inaugural Durban Under-19 International Football Tournament from 31 July to 9 August.
The new event, backed and jointly organised by KwaZulu-Natal, the City of Durban and the South African Football Association, will take place annually in Durban for at least the next three years.
The four European clubs, all of whom have a proven track record for developing world-class new talent, have expressed their excitement at competing in South Africa.
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” are also home to former Bafana Bafana captain Steven Pienaar, who is an integral part of their team, which finished fifth in the English Premier League this past season.
There is a lot of excitement about the current crop of junior players, and first team coach Roberto Martinez said in a statement that 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 programmes 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 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 Eredivisie 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 Dutch international who played in Spain with Derportivo La Coruna and in Germany with Bayern Munich, said the Durban Under-19 International Football Tournament would 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 said. “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 the man generally recognised as their greatest ever player, Eusabio, was from Mozambique.
The club, based in Lisbon, is the most popular in Portugal. 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 past two seasons.
Academy general manager Armando Jorge Carneiro said the club was looking forward 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, legendary former Italy international Francesco Totti. The 37-year-old made his debut for the club’s first team in 1993 and is still playing, some 561 appearances and 235 goals later.
Roma’s youth programme is renowned worldwide, and they have schools across the world which 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 programme.”
Roma and Benfica have been drawn in Group A in Durban alongside Argentine giants Boca Juniors and the 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.
Durban’s Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium, a training venue for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, and Princess Magogo Stadium, a Premier Soccer League (PSL) venue, will host the tournament’s group stage matches.
The semi-finals will take place at King Zwelithini Stadium, another PSL and 2010 Fifa World Cup training venue, while the Moses Mabhida Stadium, with the iconic arch that was one of the most memorable images of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, will host the final.