The first edition of the AEGON Future Cup has been kicked off. During the (ceremonial) kick off, Ajax warmly welcomed its guests. From Saturday until Monday, the Toekoemst hosts this prestigious youth tournament, with its world class participants.
8.30pm: the Toekomst’s boardroom starts to fill up. A bus has just brought members of FC Barcelona, Liverpool FC, Bayern München, Anderlecht, China U-17 en AC Milan to the youth complex. As the final touches are being applied outside, the delegation members slowly trickle in. Ajax’s head of youth training, Jan Olde Riekerink, warmly welcomes the coaches and leaders to the first AEGON Future Cup. “The goal is to see top level football in the coming three days, and also to see players who love playing the game”, says Olde Riekerink. “I’m proud that we can host such great clubs, with so much history. What binds us is that we all have a good name is training talent. The football world is actually a small family.”
Taking turns, the coaches, or other members of the delegations, are called forward. Gifts are exchanged. After all of the Ajax gifts have been given away, the table remains loaded with presents. A signed FC Barcelona shirt covers AC Milan’s gift bag. Bayern, and the other clubs’ presents, are behind, in a neat row. After a congratulatory ( ‘Happy 110th birthday, Ajax’) from AC Milan, and many more kind words, it’s Anderlecht’s turn. “Maybe we’re the team participating from the smallest country, but watch out!”, the RSC Anderlecht liaison say to a laughing audience. The Chinese U-17 make a nice presentation when the trainers briefly address the crowd. The Chinese’s participation is no coincidence ; Ajax is the Chinese federation’s training partner.
As FC Barcelona is announced, ex Barcelona player Sergi takes the stage. “We’re also pleased to be here”, says Sergi through his interpreter and team liaison. The former left back made his debut under Johan Cruijff, and, between 1993 and 2002, had 267 (competition) duels in for the Catalan team to his name. Sergi also played 56 interlands for Spain. “Ajax is one of the best football training clubs of the Netherlands”. After the presentation, the coach, whose player nickname was “El Moto” (the motor), talks more about the Barca team’s participation. “This tournament gives us a fantastic opportunity to observe other big clubs’ youth teams”, continues the former player, who is currently in his first year as youth coach.
Ajax’s BI plays a pool game against their age counterparts of FC Barcelona on Sunday. “What do I expect from the match? It will be a duel between two technical, attacking teams. I expect lots of goals.” Sergi has been linked to the blaugranas since age sixteen, and he followed part of the FC Barcelona youth training program himself. World star Messi is also a product of the Catalan youth training program. Does Sergi have a potential new Messi among his pupils? “There’s at least one of them with comparable qualities”, laughs the youth trainer, who still plays with Frank de Boer, among others. “I won’t tell you who he is. The spectators can figure it out for themselves.”
“Getting some experience”, according the Liverpool U-17 coach Steve Cooper, is the aim for his players. “Becoming familiar with the different playing styles of the other top clubs, will be very instructive”, says Cooper. “There are a few players in my selection who have the talent to make it to the first team. Participating in this strong youth tournament is part of the learning process. Ajax has done a great job in bringing together these participating teams. We click with the other teams. Everyone speaks the same football language. The youth coach hopes that former Ajax player Ryan Babel will be following the young Reds on the Internet. “I hope he’ll be keeping an eye on us. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to speak to him beforehand, to pick his brain about the Ajax youth team. He’s a wonderful player.”
After Olde Riekerink has thanked the attendees and wished everyone luck, the welcome evening comes to close with a group picture. All of the coaches proudly pose around the imposing AEGON Future Cup. The three day tournament can begin!