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Interview with Roberto de Blasio, founder of the Generali CEE Cup football tournament

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The first running of the CEE Cup was in the summer of 2011. What made you decide to organise such a tournament?

The inspiration came from the Viareggio Cup, an U19 Tournament that has been held in Italy for the last 65 years. Many of the best football players that we can admire today, from Lahm to Phil Neville and of course the Italian stars Baggio and Balotelli have participated in the Viareggio Cup in the past. Our idea was to create a similar type of competition here in Prague, but giving the opportunity first to the academies from Central and Eastern Europe because we were, and still are, convinced that this region has a lot of talent but they don’t have, or didn’t have, an opportunity at an international level to show their talent.

You have made no secret of the fact that one day you would like to have youth teams from some of the top European clubs taking part in the GENERALI CEE Cup. If you had an unlimited budget and could invite any club, who would you most like to see play here in Prague?

Definitely the top European Clubs can give to a tournament like ours more visibility but the top clubs do not always have the best young talent, so that’s why, during the selection process that starts immediately after the end of the previous edition, we analyze each team’s results in the CEE region and start from there. The budget is of course important as it is very expensive to bring top Clubs, so, as we did in 2013, I would give priority to South American Clubs who can bring to the tournament a completely different football mentality and style.

Last year the winning team came from Hungary and they knocked out the previous winners, Mlada Boleslav, in the final; how good did you think the Hungarian team was?

Győri ETO FC, just like the Hungarian football movement generally, is doing very well and indeed they had the most talented players, even though the Czech Slavia Prague and Sparta Prague could also count on some very good football players.

You give awards to a number of different players at the end of the tournament, including best player of the tournament. Who won this award last year, and where is he playing now?

Last year’s GENERALI CEE Cup’s best player was Jiří Sodoma, a very talented players from Slavia Prague. Since then, Jiri has already been nominated to play in some of Slavia Prague’s A team matches, and indeed is regarded as one of the most talented football players of the new Czech generation.

Last year you invited a ‘referee trainer’ to watch over the matches and give feedback to the referees taking part in the tournament. Why did you decide to invite him and what sort of feedback did you get from him?

As the GENERALI CEE Cup is an international tournament we wanted our referees to be international as well. The seminar held last year for young referees and led by a FIFA delegate was part of the cooperation that we have had with FIFA since the 2012 edition and we are proud of being able to contribute to the growth of this important aspect of modern football.

We understand that this year you plan to organise some ‘scouting seminars’ that will give the chance for scouts attending the tournament to network with each other. How did you get this idea and how do you see it working?

Each year we like to operate a parallel project to the GENERALI CEE Cup. Last year this was our seminar for young referees, and this year we have chosen the topic of agents and scouts which is, of course, an important element in the search for young talent. Together with Wyscout, which is a scouting system for match analyses and the video platform leader in their sector, we will offer to scouts and agents the chance to participate in some educational and networking events in order to help them to discover new talents within the clubs participating.

Did you, yourself, play football?

I played football up to a certain level, and I still play for fun.

Who is your biggest footballing hero?

I am a lover of attacking football and I was lucky enough to see in my home town in Italy, the work of the Czech coach Zdenek Zeman; a lover of young players who made incredible results with his attacking football in the early 90’s…as a player I loved Roberto Baggio..

Where would you like to see the GENERALI CEE Cup in 10 years time?

In 10 years I see the GENERALI CEE Cup as a meeting point for people working in the football industry – a ‘must attend’ event!

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