Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the Copa Coca-Cola. It’s the world’s biggest grassroots football initiative with around 1.3 million teenagers from over 60 countries competing for the right to participate in an international training camp and, of course, play in the tournament that gives the event its name.
This year’s event was the 27th Copa Coca-Cola and the second in the new international training camp format – the first was held alongside the World Cup in Brazil last year – and took place in Lindow near Berlin. 104 teenagers from 27 countries descended on the training camp which was as much about life skills as football.
I arrived on day four. I’d only been there half an hour when I was given the opportunity to interview Hansi Flick, Assistant Coach for the World Cup winning German national team. I asked him about what attracted him to participate and also for tips I could pass on to the England national team – you can see his responses in my vlog tomorrow!
Hansi wasn’t the only World Cup winner in attendance; he was joined later in the day by Pierre Littbarski who was part of the then West Germany team which triumphed in Italia 90. Benedikt Höwedes – the only outfield player to have played every minute of Germany’s victory in Brazil last year – arrived the following day. I was lucky enough to get interviews with them too.
The real stars of the event though were the kids. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting the standard of football to be as high as it was. I thought they would be talented, of course, but was surprised by their movement and composure on the pitch. There didn’t seem to be any egos either; it was all about teamwork which was brilliant to see.
Speaking of which, I was impressed by the way the tournament was arranged. Rather than representing their countries, they were split up into teams based upon their performances in the first few days. In many cases, the only common language was football but it was amazing how quickly they bonded and worked together.
I was also impressed by the organisation of the event and the passion that everyone in the Coca-Cola team had for it. It was clearly so much more than just a job for them and their enthusiasm was infectious. The atmosphere in the camp was incredibly positive and I genuinely enjoyed every minute of it.
By bringing kids together and giving them the opportunity to make new friends, learn new skills and work together for a common goal, the Copa Coca-Cola is a success story in its own right. There are some individual success stories too; Javier Hernandez emerged from a national event in Mexico. Having witnessed the ability and attitudes of the teenagers at this year’s event, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of them playing for their countries one day.
I’ll be posting my vlog tomorrow. In the meantime, check out some of my interviews on my YouTube channel.