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.
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).
Joao Felix was the most recent recipient, picking up the 2019 award after his impressive season with Benfica and Portugal, earning a move to Atletico Madrid. But how have he and the other previous winners fared?
2003: Rafael van der Vaart
Current club: Retired
The Dutch midfielder picked up the gong at Ajax but 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, before his one-season spell there came to an end. 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: Derby County
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 leading scorer for both. He returned to his first club Everton in 2017 and, after a spell with D.C. United in MLS, is back in English football after joining Derby County as player-coach in January 2020 also taking on the captain’s armband.
2005: Lionel Messi
Current club: Barcelona
Yeah, I haven’t heard of this bloke either? He must have drifted off into obscurity… Oh sorry, my mistake he’s arguably the finest player to ever be born.
As a Spanish commentator once suggested, we should be thankful he is part our lives. Give thanks.
2006: Cesc Fabregas
Current club: Monaco
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 last season, Fabregas joined Ligue 1 strugglers Monaco in January 2019, where he remains.
2007: Sergio Aguero
Current club: Man City
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 254.
Although he battles with injury problems far too frequently, Aguero’s place in history is secured after a certain dramatic winner against QPR.
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 at 31, last playing in Turkey.
2009: Alexandre Pato
Current club: Sao Paulo
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.
2010: Mario Balotelli
Current club: Brescia
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.
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2011: Mario Gotze
Current club: Borussia Dortmund
The Germany midfielder 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 Gotze 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 has since returned to Dortmund to rediscover his best form – although he will leave the club in the summer when his contract expires.
Current club: Real Madrid
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.
Regardless of his lack of a guaranteed starting place during his time at Madrid, and with Cristiano Ronaldo now in Italy, Isco certainly has the skills to pay the bills.
2013: Paul Pogba
Current club: Man United
The Frenchman 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 four years ago when he returned to Manchester United for a then world record £89 million. His first few seasons back haven’t been entirely explosive but, with the quality the Frenchman possesses, it may only be a matter of time before the World Cup winner hits his stride at Old Trafford or elsewhere with doubts surrounding his future.
2014: Raheem Sterling
Current club: Man City
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 Manchester City and, despite all the furore that surrounded his transfer, he so far looks like a shrewd investment. He has excelled for City as they won back-to-back titles in 2018 and 2019, adding goals, assists and end-product to his game. A key City cog under Guardiola, he extended his contract with the Premier League champions till 2023 and has turned into a real goalscorer.
“This is a significant moment for the [Man City],” the club’s sporting director Txiki Begiristain said of Sterling’s new contract.
“Raheem has improved dramatically in the past two seasons and is now one of the Premier League’s best attacking players. His statistics tell their own story.”
2015: Anthony Martial
Current club: Man United
The fourth player to have been on Manchester United’s books at one time or another and collected the coveted award is, of course, their current boy wonder, 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.
A bright future surely beckons for United’s forward. After stuttering slightly under Jose Mourinho, Martial will be a key figure for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United, leading the line as one of the club’s centre-forwards.
2016: Renato Sanches
Current club: LOSC Lille
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 Lille, calling time to his disastrous Bayern career in the summer, and has been one of Ligue 1’s top players.
2017: Kylian Mbappe
Current club: Paris Saint-Germain
The now-21-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 90 goals in 120 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 better by a 17-year-old Pele.
2018: Matthijs de Ligt
Current club: Juventus
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 – though the start has been slow.
2019: Joao Felix
Current club: Atletico Madrid
The most recent winner of the award, 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 four more appearances coming since. After the mini-tournament ended, Felix secured his move to Atletico Madrid although the 20-year-old has not yet lived up to the high expectations placed on him.