Football Features

2019 Golden Boy: Which main contenders did Joao Felix beat to the award?

By Ben Green

Atletico Madrid star Joao Felix has won the 2019 Golden Boy

Published: 11:00, 27 November 2019

Atletico Madrid star Joao Felix has been named the 2019 Golden Boy after a sensational year at Benfica and the Wanda Metropolitano.

The highly-coveted accolade was first established by Italian publication Tuttosport in 2003 and is awarded to the best footballer under the age of 21 currently playing in Europe.

Former recipients of the esteemed gong include Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Sergio Aguero and Kylian Mbappe. Felix has now become the latest up-and-coming star to take home the individual silverware and join this illustrious pantheon.

But, who exactly did Felix pip to the post? Prior to the announcement of this year’s Golden Boy winner, we here at Squawka ranked the initial 20-man shortlist – released last month.

So, where did the Portuguese phenom place in our ranking? Did we have him down as the most worthy winner of the 2019 Golden Boy title? Or were we rooting for another of Europe’s most promising starlets to clinch the award? There’s only one way to find out…

20. Rodrygo (Real Madrid)

Despite only playing 265 minutes of La Liga football this term, Real Madrid’s £40m summer signing from Santos made the final 20-man shortlist. He has been in impeccable form the last few weeks and recently earned his first Brazil cap.

Key stat: Rodrygo became the fastest player to score his first La Liga goal for Real Madrid (93 seconds) since Ronaldo Nazario when he found the net 93 seconds into his debut against Osasuna.

19. Ansu Fati (Barcelona) 

Fati didn’t feature in the original 40-man shortlist which was released in September, but thanks to his stratospheric rise to prominence these past couple of months he earned his place among the best tyros across the continent, though with just 411 minutes of first-team action in 2019, he was never likely to take home the top prize.

Key stat: Fati boasts the second-best dribbles per 90 minutes ratio (6.9) of any Barcelona player in La Liga this season.

18. Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich)

Yet to really explode onto the scene, 19-year-old Davies has exhibited flashes of brilliance in 2019 but has so far earned just four Bundesliga start, which is why he was nowhere near the upper echelons of our ranking.

Key stat: Davies has successfully completed the second-most dribbles per 90 minutes this season (5.5) of any other Bayern Munich player (over two appearances).

17. Dejan Joveljic (Red Star Belgrade/Eintracht Frankfurt)

In 2019 for Red Star, Joveljic directly contributed to nine goals across all competitions as his side clinched the Serbian SuperLiga, prompting Frankfurt to part with £3.6m for his services in the summer. He is yet to really announce himself at the Commerzbank-Arena but has nine appearances to his name this term already.

Key stat: Joveljic registered 14 goals and picked up two assists for Red Star Belgrade across all competitions in 2018/19.

16. Lee Kang-in (Valencia)

The three-capped South Korea international has had a rather subdued influence for Valencia, but during the summer he was sensational at the FIFA U-20 World Cup as he guided his nation to the final in the United States, picking up the Golden Ball for best player at the tournament along the way.

Key stat: Lee Kang-in scored two goals and registered four assists for South Korea in the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

15. Andriy Lunin (Real Madrid/Leganes/Valladolid)

Lunin, much like Lee Kang-in, has had little success at club level in 2019 but has flourished on the international stage. The 6ft 3in shot-stopper starred as Ukraine won their first ever FIFA U-20 World Cup – at the expense of South Korea – in the summer, picking up a Golden Glove to match.

Key stat: In five La Liga appearances for Leganes last season Lunin made 14 saves.

14. Phil Foden (Manchester City)

Earmarked as the heir to David Silva’s playmaker throne, Foden hasn’t quite been able to cement a regular starting berth in Pep Guardiola’s XI, but has made 20 first-team appearances across all competitions for Man City in 2019, while scooping a domestic treble last term as well.

Key stat: Foden boasts the best chances created per 90 minutes ratio of any Man City player in the Premier League this season (5).

13. Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid)

Prior to rupturing his knee ligaments last March, Vinicius had started 10 consecutive La Liga matches for Los Blancos in 2019, which is no mean feat for any teenager. He has since returned and is slowly picking up his form this season.

Key stat: Vinicius Junior has completed the second-most dribbles (34) of any Real Madrid player in La Liga this season.

12. Matteo Guendouzi (Arsenal)

There were a few questions marks raised as Arsenal faded during the latter stages of 2018/19, but one player who has really come into his own this term for the Gunners is Guendouzi. The luxurious axis has been the main instigator in the middle of the park for Unai Emery in 2019/20 and is currently in red hot form.

Key stat: No player has completed more passes for Arsenal in the Premier League this season than Guendouzi (817).

11. Moise Kean (Everton)

Kean hasn’t quite hit the ground running for Everton just yet, but there can be no denying his exploits for club and country towards the latter stages of last season. The young striker enjoyed an exceptional purple patch for the Old Lady which yielded six Serie A goals in six games between March and April, while he also netted two in two for Italy.

Key stat: Kean had the best goals per 90 minutes ratio in Serie A of any Juventus player last season (1).

10. Ferran Torres (Valencia)

Not only has Torres become a regular fixture in Valencia’s starting XI, mesmerising with his balletic gait and quick feet, but he has also shone at international level, playing a key role as Spain clinched the European Under-19 Championship in the summer.

Key stat: Torres scored both goals in the European Under-19 Championship final as Spain beat Portugal 2-0.

9. Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan)

At just 20, Donnarumma has already racked up nearly 200 appearances for both club and country. The towering ‘keeper has been an ever-present between the sticks for the Rossoneri through what has been a difficult period in the club’s history.

Key stat: Donnarumma boasts the second-best save percentage for Serie A goalkeepers – over 20 games – in 2019 so far (76.11%).

8. Erling Braut Haaland (Red Bull Salzburg)

The name on everyone’s lips at the moment, Haaland has been nothing short of sensational these past few months. From scoring the most goals ever by a single player in an U-20 World Cup match, to bagging 26 in 18 games for Red Bull Salzburg, he has been on fire since the summer. He would feature much higher in our ranking but he rarely featured in the second half of last season and so comes in at a respectable eighth.

Key stat: Haaland is the only teenager to score in each of his first four Champions League appearances

7. Mason Mount (Chelsea)

He was inspirational as Derby County reached the Play-off final last season, and he has since taken that form over to Chelsea this campaign, netting four league goals to help the Blues up to fourth, while also earning six international caps for England, and getting off the mark for his country as well.

Key stat: For Chelsea in the Premier League this season, Mount has created more chances (23) than any other player.

6. Nicolo Zaniolo (Roma)

Part of the deal that saw Radja Nainggolan head to Inter Milan from Roma, the Giallorossi undeniably got the better end of the straw as Zaniolo excelled in the second half of the 2018/19 campaign, clinching the Serie A Best Young Player as a result, while also earning five international caps for Italy. His form has continued this term with five goals across all competitions, as well as recently bagging a brace for Italy.

Key stat: Zaniolo has attempted more dribbles (47) in Serie A than any Roma player this season and has successfully completed the most as well (26).

5. Donyell Malen (PSV Eindhoven)

To say that Malen has simply been ‘in form’ would be a massive understatement to his credentials in 2019, as the former Arsenal forward has been exquisite, netting at sheer will for PSV while also finding the back of the net for the first time at international level for the Netherlands.

Key stat: Donyell Malen has scored 16 goals and registered seven assists in 20 appearances for PSV across all competitions this season.

4. Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen)

The 20-year-old midfielder is one of the most sought-after youngsters across the globe at the minute, with his talismanic performances for Die Werkself bringing about 20 goals in 42 matches for the club in 2018/19, while this term he has bagged three.

Key stat: Havertz has created the second-most chances of any Bayer Leverkusen player in the Bundesliga this season (23).

3. Matthijs de Ligt (Ajax/Juventus)

Winner of the award last year, De Ligt has followed up in 2019 with that same blistering form, helping boyhood club Ajax clinch a domestic double and reach the Champions League semi-final. He also scooped the Dutch Footballer of the Year award, was named in the Eredivisie Team of the Year and FIFPro World11, while his defensive exploits took the Netherlands to the inaugural Nations League final.

Key stat: Last season De Ligt became the youngest Dutch defender to score a Champions League goal in the competition’s history (19 years, 9 months and 4 days old).

2. Joao Felix (Benfica/Atletico Madrid)

Such was the form of Felix for Benfica that Diego Simeone’s side couriered £113m to Lisbon for his services in the summer. The 20-year-old was ferocious as the Eagles won the Primeira Liga, while he was also named the league’s Best Young Player of the Year. What’s more, the talented tyro played a role as Portugal won the Nations League at the expense of the Netherlands.

Key stat: Joao Felix is the youngest player to score a Champions League goal for Atletico Madrid.

1. Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)

While the above candidates have shone and mesmerised in equal measure, there has been nobody quite as devastating, lethal and explosive as Sancho. The incisive winger combined his innate close control with break-neck speed and a refined end product to produce a staggering 13 goals and 19 assists last term. And that form has spilled over to this season, and even for England, as the fledgling talent continues to produce at key moments while also enhancing his burgeoning reputation.

Key stat: Sancho has directly contributed to more Bundesliga goals than any other Borussia Dortmund player this season (10).