A long-term member of the UEFA Youth and Amateur Committee, FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce is an honoured guest at the UEFA Regions' Cup final, genially acknowledging to UEFA.com: "You should never forget your roots."
One of the biggest supporters of a tournament that brings together the best amateur sides in Europe, Boyce is delighted by how things are unfolding in Portugal. "It has been absolutely excellent," he said. "The highest praise possible must go to the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF).
"The feedback from everyone has been tremendous.
We have had good crowds and we are expecting nearly 2000 people for the final, which is great for an amateur tournament. Whoever hosts the next one will have a lot to live up to."
If new standards are being set in terms of organisation, then those developments are being mirrored in terms of the quality of football on offer. Finalists Braga and Leinster & Munster were given a tough ride in the group stage, with the fitness and tactical acumen of the squads involved a reflection, for Boyce, of the increasing interest in the competition, now in its seventh edition since the first finals in 1999.
"It's primarily down to the coaching," explained Boyce, as he reflected on what factors have led to the rising prestige of the competition. "Many of the coaches I have spoken to at the tournament are dedicating a lot more time to individual skills because of the importance of the competition. Each final tournament I come to I see the standard improving. It's also down to the attitude and the fitness of the players."
With improved performances from the stars here at the finals has come increased interest from professional clubs; notable past success stories include two senior Bulgarian internationals discovered at the finals, while Tony, who represented a previous Braga team at the 2001 finals, moved into the professional ranks in Portugal, eventually playing in the UEFA Champions League group stage with CFR 1907 Cluj.
It is an exciting development, and further success stories are expected from the players at the 2011 finals, but Boyce is keen to underline that the tournament should not be judged on how many individuals go on to have a career in professional football. "A lot of these players are probably good enough to turn professional but because of their job situations they don't want to," he said.
More important, he believes, is the tournament's ability to unite. "There are more people playing amateur football than professional football, and football brings people together regardless of race, class or creed," said Boyce, adding of his work with the Youth and Amateur Committee: "This is a big part of my life. I enjoy youth and amateur football and I believe you should never forget your roots."
That, perhaps, is the UEFA Regions' Cup's ultimate message, and it is being received loud and clear in Portugal.
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