Next week legendary Brazilian football star Pelé will arrive in Egypt for his first visit in 41 years. While much attention is being paid to one of football’s all time greats, there is an important reason behind his visit.
In 25 governorates across Egypt, 13-15 year-olds have been playing five-a-side tournaments in youth centres as part of the first stage of the Copa Coca-Cola Cup. Pelé’s visit is to launch the governorate stage of the tournament, which will eventually produce a winning team that will travel to Rio De Janeiro to attend the opening ceremony of the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup.
“Copa started in Mexico in 1998 and now occurs in more than 60 countries around the world,” said Mohamed Hany, Coca-Cola’s project manager for the Egyptian competition.
This is the second season in Egypt and Hany explained that the competition has expanded to 4,000 teams around the country with approximately 32,000 players. Under the sponsorship of the Ministry of Youth, the first phase of the competition was held in 200 youth centres around the country.
Last year the winning team had the chance to attend a training camp at London-based team Chelsea FC and participated in a tournament in South Africa. Four Egyptian players were picked for the “Copa All Stars” team and the goalkeeper was named as the best in the competition, said Hany. One player returned from South Africa and joined Egyptian outfit ENNEPI FC.
The teams are made up of eight players, with rolling substitutes. Scouts attend all of the matches to assess and select the most talented players from around the country. “One of our main objectives is to discover new talent. It’s also active healthy living and we want everyone to adopt this lifestyle,” Hany said, adding: “We want to start building a national team for Egypt across the years.”
The scouts are ex-footballers themselves and are assigned to their home governorates, explained Hany. Thirteen players will travel to Brazil, eight players from the winning team and five talented players selected by the scouts. “If there is a good player in a team that loses, this does not mean that he lost his chance. If he is talented he is going to be picked by the scouts and he will have the chance to go [to Brazil],” said Hany.
“It’s not only a sports angle, it has a social, economic angle. Social because by just giving the 13-15 year-olds the chance to have an organised tournament … where they have the chance to experience real football matches; this will be a positive usage of their spare time. This is the cultural objective for us. We want to discover talent and give them a real chance.”
Hany highlighted that Pelé is the guest of honour for the launch of the next stage of this competition. He explained: “With Pelé coming we want to deliver a message [to the world]: This is Egypt, this is who we are and people are welcome to come to our country and they will have a good time.” The legend’s visit is also “to encourage the teams and give them the chance to play their number one passion and discover their talents. It’s a whole 3D campaign; it’s not only about one angle.”
Pelé also inspired the tagline for the competition: “If you give everything to football, football will give back.”
Hany said: “Pelé gave everything to football and he became the legend.