Football Features

What happened next? Every Fifa U17 World Cup Golden Ball winner since 1999

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 19:30, 3 January 2021

Since the decision was made by Fifa to introduce respective World Cups at various age groups the continuous search for the next big name hasn’t been easier.

Whereas some have lived up to their billing, and going on to enjoy a glittering career, others have fallen by the wayside allowing the weight of expectation to overawe them.

The first tournament is the Under-17s, inaugurated in 1985, with 16 subsequent championships to date and each outstanding player of their respective edition winning a Golden Ball.

Here are the last 10 winners and what happened next.

1999 – Landon Donovan (United States)

Current club? Retired

A member of the inaugural class at U.S. Soccer’s full-time residency program Donovan had scored 35 goals across 41 matches for the under-17s before making his senior international debut in 2000.

A star in the making, he’d go on to have a fruitful career, making a grand total of 157 appearances for America – and scoring a national record of 57 goals – across 14-years.

Predominantly playing in MLS, for LA Galaxy, he’s enjoyed loans at Bayern Munich and Everton as well as starting his footballing journey at Bayer Leverkusen where he featured in seven league matches.

After hanging up his boots in 2014 the Californian briefly came out of retirement with the Galaxy in 2016 before calling time on his playing career at the end of that season.

Donovan would come out of retirement for a second time in 2018, signing for Liga MX’s Club Leon but is now managing San Diego Loyal after hanging up his boots for good following a brief spell for San Diego Sockers of the Major Arena Soccer League.

2001 – Florent Sinama Pongolle (France)

Current club? Retired

After guiding France to their first under-17 world title, scoring nine goals in the process, Pongolle earned a move to Liverpool from Le Havre, before returning on loan.

At the Anfield-based club he made 57 appearances scoring eight goals, one of which came against Olympiacos in their Champions League comeback, a precursor to their European Cup success of 2005.

Since then, he has become somewhat of a journeyman having played for more than ten clubs, the most notable being Atletico Madrid, across seven different countries, but has now called it a day after representing his boyhood club Saint-Pierroise.

2003 – Cesc Fabregas (Spain)

Current club? Monaco

Spain lost the final to a talented Brazil team but only two of their squad members would go on to represent the senior national side that subsequently won both the European Championships and the World Cup.

David Silva was one, and Fabregas – who finished as the tournament’s leading scorer (five goals) – was the other. A few months later he would join Arsenal, where he became an instant favourite, citing a lack of opportunities at boyhood club Barcelona.

During his period with the Gunners, he racked over 300 first-team appearances scoring 58 goals while producing 91 assists.

After establishing himself, much to the dismay of Gooners everywhere, Barcelona rehired him and he’d enjoy a three season spell – 42 goals and 57 assists in 151 games – before leaving for Chelsea in the summer of 2014. He would play 138 Premier League games for the London club, winning two titles, a League Cup and an FA Cup before heading to France to play for Monaco.

2005 – Anderson (Brazil)

Current club? Retired

A year after finishing as runner-up, Anderson, who impressed observers at the eleventh edition of the tournament, joined FC Porto, a club renowned for nurturing South American talents.

Anderson’s reputation in Portugal, as Ronaldinho’s successor, grew to such an extent that Manchester United put down £20m for his services in 2007.

The central midfielder’s first season with the club proved to be a success as Anderson finished with both Premier League and Champions League titles. However, he couldn’t live up to the hype, with fitness issues plaguing his period at the club.

After eight seasons, and 181 appearances, the eight-time capped international returned to Brazil to join Internacional after spending a few months on loan at Fiorentina and Coritiba.

He moved to Turkish First League side Adana in July 2018, but has since retired from football at the age of only 31.

2007 – Toni Kroos (Germany)

Current club? Real Madrid

A product of Bayern Munich’s esteemed academy, much was written about Kroos before he made his first team debut in September 2007.

His performances in South Korea, ultimately becoming the sole German representative to reach senior level, was enough to convince the Bayern hierarchy – then under the auspices of Ottmar Hitzfeld – he was ready.

Kroos, aged 17, became the club’s youngest debutant, a record that has since been eclipsed by David Alaba. Further appearances would be sporadic, before he came a regular during the 2010/11 season, coinciding with Bayern’s return as a European footballing powerhouse.

He played an integral role in Die Roten winning their fifth European Cup in 2013 and Germany’s fourth World Cup title a year later. After an eight-year associating with the club he left for Real Madrid in the summer of 2014 and has since won a second, third and fourth Champions League title as well as cementing himself as one of his national team’s most important players.

2009 – Sani Emmanuel (Nigeria)

Current club? Unattached (last played for Oskarshamns AIK)

It never really happened for Emmanuel after he guided hosts Nigeria to second-place at the 2009 edition.

He’d secure a place at Lazio’s youth set-up a year later though he never made an official appearance for the Roman club.

Successive loan spells at Salernitana and Swiss outfit FC Biel-Bienne were frustrating as opportunities were scarce.

Once realising his long-term future was not in Rome the striker left for Beitar Jerusalem, where he made one league appearance, before joining Oskarshamns AIK in Sweden, after a brief spell there – restricted to just four competitive games – the 28-year-old is currently a free agent following a trial with Bosnian side FK Sarajevo.

2011 – Julio Gomez Gonzalez (Mexico)

Current club? Unattached (last played for Loros UdeC)

Another who’s had to be patient after an impressive showing at the Under-17 World Cup.

Part of the Mexico squad that triumphed on home soil, managing three goals in the process, and then adding the Concacaf U-20 Championship to his resume two years later, González – yet to play for the senior Mexico team – has enjoyed limited top level football.

Graduating from Pachuca’s youth team in 2011, he’s made 14 appearances scoring once and creating a further assist, but the 26-year-old has been sent out on loan at eight different clubs and last played for Loros UdeC in 2019.

2013 – Kelechi Iheanacho (Nigeria)

Current club? Leicester City

Spearheading the Super Eagles to a fourth title was Kelechi Iheanacho, who finished with six goals including scoring in their 3-0 final win over Mexico.

A tournament filled with scouts looking for the next big thing, it was no surprise one of Europe’s leading clubs – Manchester City – made a move for him within a year of his success.

Iheanacho continued his rapid development within their youth set-up before first-team boss Manuel Pellegrini couldn’t ignore him anymore. Iheanacho, aged 19, made his City debut in September 2015 and would score 21 goals across all competitions for the Sky Blues.

In summer 2018, he was sold to Leicester City, where he became the first player in English football to be awarded a goal through the use of VAR.

Iheanacho has since graduated to senior international football racking up nine goals in 29 games so far for Nigeria.

2015 – Kelechi Nwakali (Nigeria)

Current club? Huesca

Nigeria secured back-to-back titles, and their fifth overall, in Chile in the summer of 2015. Much of their success was down to the leadership of captain Nwakali, who like Iheanacho before him, moved to England, joining Arsenal.

On arrival he’d switch to Dutch second division side MVV Maastricht where he netted three times and weighed in with four assists across all competitions. Two seasons later he would rejoin them on a temporary basis.

Much was expected of the multifunctional forward, who is capable of playing as a No.10, but he couldn’t quite break into the Arsenal first-team and moved to Huesca.

2017 – Phil Foden (England)

Current club? Manchester City

The recipient of the u17s World Cup Golden Ball, much is expected of Phil Foden, a product of the Manchester City youth academy.

Foden made his debut for City on 21 November 2017 in a Champions League game against Feyenoord, aged just 17, and is clearly highly regarded by manager Pep Guardiola, who after a pre-season win against Manchester United last summer said of the young playmaker: “It’s a long time since I saw something like this. His performance was another level. He’s 17 years old, he’s a City player, he grew up in the academy, he loves the club, he’s a City fan and for us he’s a gift.”

Foden won the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year in December 2017 and to date made 93 appearances for City, scoring 21 times, as he looks to become a regular mainstay.

2019 – Gabriel Veron (Brazil)

Current club? Palmeiras

The most recent winner, Gabriel Veron is a graduate of Palmeiras academy system and played an instrumental role in Brazil winning their fourth trophy. A regular starter at the championship he’d contribute with three goals and to date has made over 20 appearances for his boyhood club. Named after former Manchester United and Argentina midfielder Juan Sebastián, the 18-year-old forward has been linked with English football’s most decorated league club, yet to move chances are he’ll end up plying his trade in Europe someday.

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