As a young footballer Matthew Booth got to play against global greats such as Thierry Henry and Steven Gerrard at junior tournaments, which he says helped shape him as a footballer.
Booth is now Ambassador for the 2015 Durban Under-19 International Football Tournament that will see the future stars of the global game descends on KwaZulu-Natal to take on the best junior stars of South Africa.
The prestigious competition, now in its second year, will be played from July 29-August 8 at four venues across Durban that were upgraded as part of the legacy of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The eight-team tournament contains a star-studded field that includes English giants Arsenal, Italian super-club AC Milan, prestigious Dutch outfit PSV Eindhoven, Turkish side Galatasaray, German Bundesliga Stuttgart and Scottish giants Glasgow Celtic. They will compete against the South African Under-19 side and a selection from the KwaZulu-Natal Academy.
“It is fantastic to see such quality teams, being put together by Hoy Park Management, the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government and the City of eThekwini, in collaboration with the South African Football Association, as this is such a vital age for these young players to learn,” Booth says.
“This will be a great barometer for South African teams to gauge where we are at against a superb collection of international teams.”
“I remember playing as a youngster in Toulon in France where we came up against players who would go on to become global greats and at the very top of the game.
“Guys like Henry and Gerrard were also just making their way in the game and it was great to follow their careers after that and see how they developed.”
His experiences opened his eyes to the global game and the different styles of teams.
“I think we went in a bit wide-eyed and not really sure about the international stage, but we learnt so much in these tournaments and it gave us the confidence to compete on the world stage.
In his successive career, among other things; Booth enjoyed four, successful trophy-laden years at Mamelodi Sundowns, before a brief spell with then English Premier League side Wimbledon and then a move to Russian Premier League side FC Rostov in 2002.
He was a huge hit at the club and later joined another Russian side Krylia Sovetov, where he spent a further five years and captained the side.
He went on to play 28 times for the senior national side, including being part of the 2010 FIFA World Cup squad, having missed the 2002 tournament through injury.
Booth believes that, given the teams that has been assembled this year for the Durban U19 International Tournament, there will likely be players on show who will, win domestic league titles and possible even the World Cup – giving a glimpse into the superstars of tomorrow.
“These clubs have not only been successful in their own countries, but also competing in international club competitions,” Booth says.
“They have also been top producers of talent, so it stands to reason we will see future UEFA Champions League and even World Cup winners. Again, this will provide us with a superb opportunity to see where we as South Africa stand.”
The eight sides will be split into two groups each containing four teams, with the top two sides in each pool advancing to the semifinals. Each pool will contain a South African team.
The current champions are Brazilian side Santos, who defeated Portuguese side Benfica 2-0 in the inaugural final in 2014.
The Princess Magogo Stadium in KwaMashu, Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium in Claremont, King Zwelithini Stadium in Umlazi and magnificent Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban Central will be used to stage an event that has become renowned the world over.