The UEFA European Under-17 Championship – which begins in Serbia on Tuesday – is the place to see the stars of the future, says Jim Boyce, first vice-chairman of the UEFA Youth and Amateur Football Committee.
Since the tournament was reformatted from an U16 event in 2002, the likes of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Cesc Fàbregas, Bojan Krkić and Toni Kroos have taken part. Even from last year's winning England team, midfielder Josh McEachran has already made an impact at Chelsea FC.
"This is really what the tournament's all about," Boyce told UEFA.com. "Yes it's nice to win, but there can only be one winner. The most important thing is if you look at national teams now, when you see the number of players who have come through the European U17 and U19 finals, I think it's tremendous."
Having helped make the draw for the finals in Belgrade, the former Irish Football Association (IFA) president is looking forward to the 2011 competition. "I think it's a very wide open tournament," he said. "My colleagues from Northern Ireland were in the same group as England and Spain. They told me that Spain were tremendous so England must have done tremendously well to win that group.
"I was delegate in the group in Italy, and the Czech Republic have a very strong side too, it was between them and Scotland, who played very well. I think the tournament's wide open and it is very exciting because six teams will go to Mexico for the FIFA [U-17] World Cup finals."
He had a special word for Serbia. "I will be very interested to see how the hosts perform. I think it's very good for an association like Serbia that UEFA are now taking finals of European youth tournaments to different countries. We're going to Romania for the U19 finals, and next year we're going to Estonia and Slovenia.
"Youth tournaments, in the many years I've now been involved, are just growing in stature every year. People look forward to them and it is a great boost for the country. I'm sure the Serbian FA will have a successful tournament."
Boyce is also expecting some healthy crowds. "It's free admission," he said. "They have been promoting the tournament in all the schools around Belgrade and Novi Sad. They are hoping they will have a capacity attendance for the final."
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