Football Features

What happened next? Every Golden Player award winner at the European U19 Championships

By Chris Smith

Published: 17:20, 30 June 2022

Youth international tournaments present the perfect stage for the best up-and-coming prodigies in world football to showcase their talents and the Under-19 European Championship has certainly witnessed some of the very best over the last couple of decades.

Since the tournament age restriction was increased from Under-18 to Under-19 in 2002, a number of Golden Player winners (awarded to the best player of the tournament) have gone on to achieve success, fame and fortune for the rest of their careers.

That hasn’t exclusively been the case, though, as some bright young talents were unable to ever replicate the form they displayed over a couple of weeks in their teenage years…

So to that end, here is what happened next to all 15 of the Golden Players from the Under-19 European Championships – before it was seemingly stopped after 2017. A mixed bag, to say the least.

2002: Fernando Torres

Nationality: Spain

Senior Caps: 110

Senior Goals: 38

Current Club: Retired

Major Honours: 9

Fernando Torres carried on where he left off in Atletico Madrid’s 2001/02 promotion-winning campaign by top-scoring as Spain won the tournament and he continued finding the net on a regular basis for his hometown team in La Liga.

El Niño eventually left his beloved Atletico to join Liverpool in a multi-million deal in 2007 and after three and a half seasons at Anfield he moved on to Chelsea in a £50m move. After enjoying a brief renaissance with Atletico Madrid under Diego Simeone in his twilight years, and then moving to Japan to play for Sagan Tosu, Torres retired in 2019.

2003: Alberto Aquilani

Nationality: Italy

Senior Caps: 38

Senior Goals: 5

Current Club: Retired

Major Honours: 5

A productive loan spell with Triestina followed for Alberto Aquilani after he delivered a series of dazzling displays for a victorious Azzurri in 2003. At the start of the 2004/05 season, Aquilani finally cemented his place in Roma’s midfield alongside Daniele De Rossi.

Unfortunately, the classy playmaker has endured horrendous injury problems throughout his career, that severely limited his impact at Liverpool, Juventus, Milan, Fiorentina. Like Torres, Aquilani retired in 2019 after unsuccessful spells with Pescara, Sporting CP, Sassuolo and Las Palmas.

2004: Juanfran

Nationality: Spain

Senior Caps: 22

Senior Goals: 1

Current Club: Retired

Major Honours: 7

In his younger days, Juanfran played for Real Madrid B as an out-and-out right winger and his performances in an advanced midfield role were pivotal in helping Spain win the competition.

Juanfran made only six league appearances for Los Blancos over the next couple of years and after a loan spell with Espanyol and five years at Osasuna, he moved on to Atletico Madrid in 2011, where he spent eight successful years as a right-back. Juanfran called time on his Atletico career in 2019, joining Brazilian club Sao Paulo.

2005: Abdoulaye Balde

Nationality: France

Senior Caps: 0

Senior Goals: 0

Current Club: Vendée Luçon Football

Major Honours: 1

France’s top scorer with four goals in five games at the tournament, including one in the 3-1 final victory over England, the Under-19 European Championships were as good as it got for Abdoulaye Balde.

At the time of the tournament, he was contracted to Amiens SC where he remained until his release in 2009. Since then Balde has bounced between lower league French clubs and most recently lined up for Vendée Luçon in the third tier of French football.

2006: Alberto Bueno

Nationality: Spain

Senior Caps: 0

Senior Goals: 0

Current Club: Algeciras

Major Honours: 1

Another talented prospect who found the path to the first team blocked at Real Madrid, Alberto Bueno forged a reasonable career for himself elsewhere after leaving the Bernabeu for good in 2009.

The playmaker enjoyed four successful seasons with Real Valladolid (one of which was spent on loan at Derby County) before joining Rayo Vallecano in 2013 and then Portuguese giants Porto two years after that.

That move didn’t work out, though, with Bueno spending loan spells at Granada, Leganes, Malaga and Boavista, joining the latter permanently in January 2019 before departing for Volos in 2021. He has struggled to find a permanent home since, leaving Volos for Ionikos Nikeas before returning to Spain with Algeciras in January.

2007: Sotiris Ninis

Nationality: Greece

Senior Caps: 33

Senior Goals: 3

Current Club: Volos

Major Honours: 2

Regarded as one of Greece’s most exciting ever prospects, Sotiris Ninis made an explosive start to his professional career, becoming his country’s youngest ever goalscorer in 2008 as well as taking part in the 2010 World Cup.

That immense promise saw him move to Parma in 2012 but his progress stalled badly in Italy, leading to a return to Greece after just one season. After stints at PAOK and Panathinaikos, he has been on the move again, playing for Belgian clubs Charleroi and Mechelen and in Israel with Maccabi Petah Tikva and Hapoel Ashkelon. Ninis returned to the Greek Super League with Volos but will leave the club after two years this summer.

2008: Lars & Sven Bender

Nationality: Germany

Senior Caps: Lars (19), Sven (7)

Senior Goals: Lars (4)

Current Club: Retired (both)

Major Honours: Lars (1), Sven (5)

So influential were the Bender brothers in Germany’s tournament win in 2009, UEFA saw fit to hand them a joint award for the best player and a host of big clubs were linked with moves the pair of them afterwards, as a result.

The twins spent another season side-by-side in 1860 Munich’s midfield before going their own way, Lars joining Bayer Leverkusen and Sven moving to Dortmund, although he eventually linked up with his brother at Leverkusen in 2017, where they remained until their dual retirement in 2021.

Both were named as ‘overage’ players for Leverkusen’s squad at the Rio Olympics where they won a silver medal.

2009: Kyrylo Petrov

Nationality: Ukraine

Senior Caps: 0

Senior Goals: 0

Current Club: Korona Kielce

Major Honours: 0

Ukraine sprung a surprise in 2009 when they lifted the championship and their rock-solid centre-back Kyrylo Petrov was their talisman as they defeated England in the final.

Petrov didn’t really kick on afterwards, though, and after failing to make the breakthrough at Dynamo Kiev, he has turned out for Arsenal Kiev, Korona Kielce in Poland, Ordabasy in Kazakhstan, FC Olimpik Donetsk, Neftchi Baku and Kolos Kovalivka.

These days, he can be found lining up for Korona Kielce in Poland, whom he joined in April 2022.

2010: Gael Kakuta

Nationality: France

Senior Caps: 0

Senior Goals: 0

Current Club: RC Lens

Major Honours: 2

Signed in a controversial deal by Chelsea from RC Lens as a teenager, Gael Kakuta was another Golden Player tipped for big things who hasn’t been able to deliver at the top level.

Kakuta found first-team opportunities too hard to come by in West London, eventually leaving after a series of loan moves across Central Europe to join Rayo Vallecano and then Sevilla in Spain.

He briefly plied his trade in China with Hebei China Fortune but is currently back in France with RC Lens, joining permanently last summer after an initial loan deal. Kakuta has also switched international allegiances, picking up 13 caps for DR Congo.

2011: Alex Fernandez

Nationality: Spain

Senior Caps: 0

Senior Goals: 0

Current Club: Cadiz

Major Honours: 2

Just a few months after being handed his professional bow by Jose Mourinho (becoming one of the Portuguese manager’s 49 debutants in the process) at Real Madrid, Alex Fernandez inspired Spain to a fourth Euro title in seven years.

The one minute he spent on the pitch against Racing Santander marked his solitary appearance for the Real Madrid first-team and he joined Espanyol two years later.

Fernandez spent time on loan at Reading in 2015/16 and is now back in Spain with Cadiz, recently signing a new three-year deal.

2012: Gerard Deulofeu

Nationality: Spain

Senior Caps: 4

Senior Goals: 1

Current Club: Udinese

Major Honours: 4

Gerard Deulofeu won two consecutive Under-19 Euros after also playing a part in 2011 and he continued to develop well at Barcelona B before joining Everton on loan for the 2013/14 season.

An excellent spell at Goodison led to Deulofeu making his senior debut against Bolivia in 2014, although he missed out on Spain’s squad for the World Cup that summer. But a goal against France, after the video referee allowed it, saw him back on track in the senior side albeit in a friendly.

Deulofeu was a focal point at Watford following spells with AC Milan and, again, Barcelona, before joining Udinese following their relegation to the Championship. The Spaniard had a good 2021/22 with Udinese, scoring 13 goals in 34 games, shifting centrally.

2013: Aleksandar Mitrovic

Nationality: Serbia

Senior Caps: 73

Senior Goals: 46

Current Club: Fulham

Major Honours: 4

Aleksandar Mitrovic scored once and provided two assists as Serbia won the competition for the first time in their history and despite only being 18 at the time, the powerful forward already had two full seasons under his belt.

His reward was a move to European giants Anderlecht from Partizan Belgrade a couple of months later and after a productive couple of seasons in Belgium, Mitrovic transferred to Newcastle United for £13m. Mitrovic never quite fit in at St James’ Park but has scored 96 goals in 177 games for Fulham since joining in 2018 – including a record-breaking 43 in the Championship last season.

2014: Davie Selke

Nationality: Germany

Senior Caps: 0

Senior Goals: 0

Current Club: Hertha Berlin

Major Honours: 1

Davie Selke’s six-goal haul for Germany in 2014 matched Alvaro Morata’s record set in 2011 and following his efforts, he was rewarded with a regular starting place by Werder Bremen the following season.

Selke featured in 30 Bundesliga games in 2014/15 but then took the surprising step of moving down a division to join the ambitious Red Bull Leipzig in a move that made him the most expensive 2. Bundesliga signing ever.

The decision paid off as he helped them achieve promotion to the German top-flight with ten league goals. Selke couldn’t match that form for Leipzig in the Bundesliga nor for Hertha Berlin.

2015: Marco Asensio

Nationality: Spain

Senior Caps: 29

Senior Goals: 1

Current Club: Real Madrid

Major Honours: 14

A year before the finals, Marco Asensio made the move from Real Mallorca to Real Madrid, although he was loaned back to his first club for the second half of the 2014/15 season.

Asensio spent the 2015/16 season on loan at Espanyol and after excelling there he has become a fixture of the Real Madrid squad, winning three Champions League titles as well as three La Ligas, making over 230 appearances for Los Blancos so far.

2016: Jean-Kevin Augustin

Nationality: France

Senior Caps: 0

Senior Goals: 0

Current Club: Basel

Major Honours: 7

Jean-Kevin Augustin top-scored at the 2016 tournament with six goals as France romped to the title, beating Italy 4-0 in the final.

Les Bleus‘ squad contained some elite talents including Lucas Tousart, Kylian Mbappe and Amine Harit, all of whom have impressed for their clubs since.

Unlike Mbappe, Augustin was unable to break into the senior side or PSG’s first XI, but did score 20 goals in 67 games for RB Leipzig. He did, however, also endured a forgettable loan spell at Leeds United in the first half of 2020 before joining Ligue 1 outfit Nantes on a permanent basis. And now there’s another new club for Augustin, with a summer move to Swiss side FC Basel.

2017: Mason Mount

Nationality: England

Senior Caps: 31

Senior Goals: 4

Current Club: Chelsea

Major Honours: 1

The final recipient of the award, Mason Mount played a key role in England’s 2017 win and has continued to enhance his reputation ever since.

The midfielder enjoyed two loan spells first with Vitesse and then Derby County, earning him a senior England call-up although he had to wait for an appearance. Those days are long gone though as Mount is one of the first names on Gareth Southgate’s team sheet and the same goes for his role at Chelsea, whom he helped win the Champions League in 2020/21 with an assist in the final.