Football Features

Where are they now? Every previous Golden Boy winner

By Squawka News

Published: 16:00, 21 October 2022

Over the years, some of Europe’s brightest young stars have been crowned the Golden Boy.

The award was established by Italian sports newspaper Tuttosport in 2003 and has grown to become one of the most talked-about lists of the football calendar, with votes coming from a number of European papers.

The current judging panel includes Bild (Germany), Blick (Switzerland), A Bola (Portugal), l’Équipe (France), France Football (France), Marca (Spain), Mundo Deportivo (Spain), Ta Nea (Greece), Sport Express (Russia), De Telegraaf (Netherlands), and The Times (UK).

So, who are the members of this exclusive club?

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2003: Rafael van der Vaart 

Current club: Retired

Rafael van der Vaart picked up the gong at Ajax but the Dutch midfielder failed to settle at one club throughout his career. His time at Real Madrid was unsuccessful while a spell with Tottenham Hotspur was plagued by injuries.

In 2015, he made a surprising move to Real Betis, but his time there lasted just one season. He joined Danish side Esbjerg fB and eventually called time on his playing career in November 2018. In 2019, Van der Vaart became a professional darts player, making his debut in the BDO Denmark Open, although he was knocked out in the second round.

2004: Wayne Rooney

Current club: D.C. United (manager)

Rooney was not only the Golden child of English football, it seems. Although he was routinely criticised on these shores for not quite scaling the heights we once expected he might, you can’t argue with his records.

The striker was captain of both England and Manchester United, and is now the all-time time scorer for both. He would return to his first club Everton in 2017 before spending a spell with D.C. United in MLS. Rooney moved back to England in January 2020, joining Derby County, taking on the captain’s armband and taking interim charge of the Rams.

He has since retired from playing and managed Derby full-time, where he endeared himself to the Pride Park faithful after putting together a fiercely-competitive Championship team in 2021/22, despite the club’s well-documented and severe financial difficulties that put their very existence in the balance. He was, unfortunately, unable to keep them up last season and has since returned returned to the States to manage another former club in D.C. United.

2005: Lionel Messi

Current club: Paris Saint-Germain

Yeah, we haven’t heard of this bloke either? He must have drifted off into obscurity… Oh sorry, our mistake he’s arguably the finest player to ever be born and a downright Barcelona legend.

As a Spanish commentator once suggested, we should be thankful he is part of our lives. Give thanks. The only negative we could possibly find is that he didn’t get to say goodbye to the Barcelona fans before moving to Paris Saint-German with his former club in financial turmoil last summer.

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2006: Cesc Fabregas 

Current club: Como

Well, tough break Cesc. Following Messi is a bit unfortunate, but the Spanish midfielder has made a real go of it. Although he turned his back on La Masia to join Arsenal he made a fairytale return to his boyhood club.

But there was no happy ending there, and he became a vital cog at Chelsea, winning the Premier League twice. After failing to impress Maurizio Sarri in 2018/19, Fabregas joined Ligue 1 side Monaco in January 2019, before dropping down to the second tier of Italian football in the summer with Como.

2007: Sergio Aguero

Current club: Retired

The Argentina international slotted seamlessly into European footballing following his move to Atletico Madrid in 2006 and has never looked back. A transfer to Manchester City has seen him elevated to elite status and he is one of the best, if not the best, centre-forward in the game. This was further enhanced in November 2017 when Aguero’s goal against Napoli made him Manchester City’s all-time highest goalscorer — that particular strike was his 178th for the club, and he has since gone on to increase his tally to 260.

Although he moved on to Barcelona player, Aguero’s place in Man City’s history is secured after a certain dramatic winner against QPR. But sadly his career came to an end in 2021 after suffering from heart problems.

2008: Anderson

Current club: Retired

Anderson showed glimpses of promise as he reinvented himself as deep-lying midfielder. Well, we say, reinvented, he was rubbish after failing to live up to his billing completely through the combination of a questionable attitude and a rather inflated waistline.

He played little part in Louis van Gaal’s reign at Manchester United and was shipped out in February 2015 (finally) to Internacional. He joined Coritiba on loan in February 2017 until December and was later released by Internacional to become a free agent. He has now retired, calling time on his career aged 31, last playing in Turkey.

2009: Alexandre Pato

Current club: Orlando City

The award is a bit of a curse for Brazilians, it seems.

If things turned out badly for Anderson, his countryman Pato (initially, at least) looked to have taken matters to a whole new level.

Billed as the next big thing, the striker was superb in the early stages of his Milan days.

His career subsequently stalled, however. Injuries and poor form took their toll and he signed for Corinthians, then joined Sao Paulo on loan, in his homeland.

It appeared a bit of a fall from grace considering he had silenced the Nou Camp with a wonderful solo goal just 24 seconds into Milan’s 2-2 draw against Barcelona not too long ago.

He had a chapter on loan at Chelsea in 2015/16, but after that failed to work out he joined Villarreal in the summer and was firing on all cylinders. Yet he jumped ship for a chance in the Chinese Super League with Tianjin Quanjian in January 2017 where he would score 36 times in 60 appearances. Pato returned to his native Brazil in March 2019, re-joining Sao Paulo, but he left in 2020. He joined MLS side Orlando City as a result and won the U.S. Open Cup earlier this year.

2010: Mario Balotelli

Current club: Sion

When the Italian picked up the award he did so graciously, in unassuming fashion. Come on, really? He insulted Jack Wilshere by insisting that he didn’t even know who the Arsenal midfielder was. We know, very modest. Then, he declared that he was better than any of the other players who had won the award in the past? We’ve got news for you, Mario. You might not be.

Following a disastrous two seasons with Liverpool and AC Milan, the Italian started to re-ignite his career at Nice. His first season in Ligue 1 saw the Italian bag 15 goals in 23 League games for Nice; he then went one better in his second, netting a career-high 18 league goals in a single season. Recalled by Roberto Mancini to the Italian national team for the first time since 2014, but Balotelli looked sluggish against Poland. After three years on the French Riviera, Balotelli joined Brescia in the summer of 2019, via a brief spell with Marseille, but left after suffering relegation to Serie B and plenty of behind-the-scenes friction.

After a short spell as a free agent, Balotelli made a shock move to Serie B side Monza on a free transfer, scoring six goals in 14 appearances before another surprise switch in the summer of 2021, this time to Adana Demispor. His most recent venture has been to Sion in Switzerland, becoming quite the footballing nomad.

2011: Mario Gotze

Current club: Frankfurt

Mario Gotze may have committed the all-too-common sin of swapping hipster paradise Borussia Dortmund for the juggernaut that is Bayern Munich, but his trophy cabinet suggests the German midfielder was right to do so.

Although he hasn’t hit the heady heights that have been predicted, no one’s brave enough to say it after he netted a stunning injury-time volley to win the World Cup in 2014. As you do.

It failed to work out for him after that, however, and Gotze returned to Dortmund, but he failed to rediscover his former spark in the Ruhr district and went on to join PSV. The World Cup winner enjoyed his time in the Netherlands and performed to such a degree that Europa League winners Frankurt decided to make him a part of their Champions League-debut squad this season, bringing him back to the Bundesliga in the summer.

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2012: Isco

Current club: Sevilla

Spain churn out midfielders like butter at the moment – their seemingly endless conveyor belt of talent means that even some of the best have to fight for a moment of airtime.

Isco is one such man. His magical form at Malaga led to a lucrative move to Real Madrid but the pesky duo of a former Ballon d’Or winner and the world’s most expensive footballer restricted his first-team opportunities. He ultimately left Real this summer, bringing and end to nearly a decade of trophy-laden success in the Spanish capital, subsequently joining Sevilla on a free transfer.

2013: Paul Pogba

Current club: Juventus

Paul Pogba was all but written off when he willingly walked out of Old Trafford following a contract dispute as a teenager. His attitude was all wrong, they said; he was arrogant, they declared; he would never make it at Juventus, they insisted.

What do they know? Absolutely nothing. The powerful and energetic midfielder rose to prominence in Serie A and was regularly touted by the red tops for astronomical fees — proven six years ago when he returned to Manchester United for a then-world record £89 million.

However, things didn’t exactly work out for Pogba back in England’s North West, and he has since returned to Turin, re-joining The Old Lady after his Man Utd contract expired at the start of the summer. After injuring his meniscus, the Frenchman is yet to make his second club debut.

2014: Raheem Sterling

Current club: Chelsea

Right, if you don’t know where Sterling is at present, take a long, hard look at yourself. But why not remind yourself where he came from? Queens Park Rangers will never forget…

The England international is now at Chelsea after succesful spells at Liverpool and Manchester City, featuring 339 times for the latter and scoring 131 goals as he won four Premier League titles.

2015: Anthony Martial

Current club: Manchester United

The fourth player to have been on Manchester United’s books at one time or another and collected the coveted award is  Anthony Martial.

In 2015, people were scoffing at the astronomical £36m fee Ed Woodward shelled out to Monaco for the Frenchman, but that figure is now a fee for a reliable centre-back. He’s blown hot and cold at Old Trafford since making that move, but will now be hoping to build some consistency under Erik ten Hag, who appears to favour him (when fit).

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2016: Renato Sanches

Current club: PSG

Renato Sanches was the talk of the summer in 2016; the teenager who was part of Portugal’s European Championship-winning side quickly became part of a transfer battle between the world’s biggest clubs, most notably Bayern Munich and Manchester United. But, by a matter of a few million pounds, according to reports, it was United who missed out on the box-to-box midfielder.

Unfortunately for Sanches, however, a £35m move to Munich was followed by a season on the bench. Carlo Ancelotti afforded the youngster just six starts in the league and only one of which was a full 90 minutes. He was then made free to leave in the summer, the Bavarians’ hierarchy confirmed, with AC Milan and Chelsea both registering an interest. But it was Paul Clement, a former assistant to Ancelotti, who signed him on loan for Swansea City where he subsequently failed to produce any star-like form that was expected upon his arrival. He’s now at PSG after a highly-fruitful spell at Lille.

2017: Kylian Mbappe

Current club: Paris Saint-Germain

The now-22-year-old striker moved to PSG in 2018 first on a loan deal with a £160 million buy-out clause attached, making him the second-most expensive player of all time behind teammate Neymar.

After a season that saw him catch the eye of the world’s biggest stage (the Champions League) with Monaco, it was a near certainty that wouldn’t stay at the Principality club long.

And now in the capital of France alongside Neymar, Mbappe is rubbing shoulders with bigger fish, but it’s a pond he’s thriving in too, netting 181 goals in 225 matches so far. He also played a vital part in France’s 2018 World Cup win, scoring four goals as a teenager, a tally only ever bettered by a 17-year-old Pele.

The popular opinion right now is that Mbappe and Erling Haaland will create a monopoly on the Ballon d’Or award in years to come, just as Messi and Ronaldo did for so long.

2018: Matthijs de Ligt

Current club: Bayern Munich

At the time of his win in 2018, Matthijs de Ligt was a budding centre-back at Ajax. What followed was a season to remember, as Ajax won the domestic double including a first Eredivisie title since 2014.

De Ligt was also key in Ajax’s run to the Champions League semi-final as captain, with performances that have earned him a move to Juventus and more recently Bayern Munich.

2019: Joao Felix

Current club: Atletico Madrid

Joao Felix was honoured for his impressive breakthrough season with Benfica, scoring 15 goals and recording seven assists in 26 Primeira Liga matches during 2018/19.

His performances saw Felix earn his Portugal debut in the Uefa Nations League, starting in the semi-final win over Switzerland, with 21 more appearances coming since. After the mini-tournament ended, Felix secured his move to Atletico Madrid and but he’s still waiting to truly burst through and establish himself in that upper-upper bracket with Mbappe and Haaland.

2020: Erling Haaland

Current club: Manchester City

Haaland was the easy choice for 2020, scoring 44 goals across all competitions for Red Bull Salzburg and Borussia Dortmund in the 2019/20 campaign. The Norwegian carried that stunning form into 2020/21, and 2021/22, and 2022/23, already scoring 20 goals in just 14 games for new club Man City.

2021: Pedri

Current club: Barcelona

Pedri is the latest winner of the award, scooping the 2021 edition ahead of Jude Bellingham and Jamal Musiala, who finished second and third respectively. The Spaniard had a fantastic 12 months for club and country, playing 71 games during the 2020/21 season, being named in the Euro 2020 team of the tournament and winning silver at the Tokyo Olympics.

2022: Gavi

Current club: Barcelona

La Masia continues to prove why it is football’s pre-eminent academy, with Gavi recently emulating Pedri and Lionel Messi to scoop the latest Golden Boy award. Having collected the Kopa Trophy at the Ballon d’Or ceremony earlier this week, the Barca midfielder has once against fended off stiff competition from the likes of Jude Bellingham and Jamal Musiala to consolidate his status as the sport’s most exciting young talent.