The Golden Boy award is given to footballers under the age of 21 that have been impressing in Europe over the course of the calendar year. A lot of highly rated prospects have won the award. But this isn’t always an indication of how a young players career is going to go. So today, we are going to analyse and rank the first 10 Golden Boy winners’ overall careers.
10. Alexander Pato – 2009
Alexander Pato’s story is a typical tale of a special player who’s career was ruined by injuries.
Despite his adversity, he had several good seasons at AC Milan. In his five year stint in Milan he accumulated 63 goals and 18 assists in 150 games. On top of that he had won a league title too scoring 14 goals even though he had been injured for periods of time across the season.
His goal scoring numbers in his earlier seasons masked up some poor performances near the end of his time in Milan. It got so bad to the point where Pato was awarded the 2012 Bidone d’oro, a satirical prize, which is given to the worst Serie A player during a particular season.
Unfortunately, these would be some of his last achievements in football as a whole. An injury riddled career saw him make the move to several Brazilian clubs, as well as unsuccessful loan spell at Chelsea.
9. Rafael Van der Vaart – 2003
Van der Vaart won the golden boy award after an impressive league campaign whwee he scored 18 goals in 21 appearances.
He continued to impress whilst at German club Hamburg. In the 2007/08 season, the dutchman scored 12 goals and got 10 assists in 29 appearances. He ended his time in Germany with 66 goals and 55 assists in all competitions.
His performances earned him a move to Real Madrid in the summer in 2008. Rafael’s time in Spain was short lived only spending two seasons with Los Blancos. On top of that, his contribution at Madrid was small as he played 35 league games in his first season, only starting in 15 of them.
His success in spain was limited to a single supercopa de sepana in 2008. Way below expectations for a club of Real Madrids standards.
Van der Vaart moved to Tottenham in 2010 where he began to find form again. 13 goals and 9 assists in his first season was a refreshing start to life in North London. He followed this up with 11 goals and assists the next year before moving back to German club Hamburger.
8. Anderson – 2008
Anderson was being hailed as the next Ronaldinho early in his career. He was believed to be so talented to the point where Porto manager at the time, Co Adriaanse, would keep him on the bench just to gate keep his talents from other European teams in the hopes that they wouldn’t trigger his release clause.
At only 20 years old Anderson participated in delivering European glory by scoring a sudden death penalty in the Champions League final. After United won the Club World Cup, Anderson ended the year by officially being apart of the strongest team in the world. And to make the year even more special, he had also won the golden boy award.
However, in the 2009/10 season, a crucial injury stopped him playing football for 6 months which sent him towards an unfortunate premature ending to his career.
Although Anderson had witnessed several title triumphs whilst in Manchester, behind the scenes his relationship with Sir Alex became dysfunctional as the manager believed that Anderson was not serious about his fitness.
After the retirement of Sir Alex, there was no hope for Anderson being part of the squad. As managers David Moyes and Louis van Gaal criticised him for being overweight. His situation got so bad that he was demoted to the under 23s. He decided to leave the club at the age of 26. Ending his time in top flight european football.
7. Mario Balotelli – 2010
Balotelli won three league titles with Inter Milan. Highest goal tally would come in the 2009/10 season as he scored 9 goals. On top of that, Mario was part of the treble winning Inter Milan side that season.
However, due to the deterioration of his relationship with the club and Mourinho, he left for England in the summer of 2010. His first season at Manchester City, was filled with injuries. But despite this, he still managed to contribute to delivering the FA Cup with an assist in the final against Stoke City.
2012 would be a great year for Balotelli. This year, he played a massive part in helping manchester city secure their first premier league title by scoring 13 goals.
Despite being left out of the starting 11 for the previous 5 games. Mario wrote his name in Premier League history by providing the assist that would produce one of the most iconic moments football has ever seen. And impressively, this was the Italians only ever assist whilst at Manchester City.
In Euro 2012, Balotelli managed to score 3 goals in 5 games before losing the final to Spain in underwhelming fashion. His performances throughout the tournament earned him a spot in the Euro Team of the Tournament.
6. Mario Götze – 2011
The year of 2011 was a special year for Gotze. He featured in 33 league games getting 6 goals and 15 assists. He won his first Bundesliga title with Dortmund. And ended the season with the Golden Boy award.
The following season, he won his second title with Dortmund. However, he only featured in 17 games suffering from injuries throughout the season. Nonetheless, winning back to back titles with Dortmund is an impressive feat considering rivals Bayern Munich have won every year since then.
The 2012/13 season was another good season for the German. He got double digit league goals and assists with 10 and 12 respectively. On top of that, he registered 8 assists in the Champions League as Dortmund reached the final. Unfortunately, his side would fall short to rivals Bayern Munich who he joined the following season.
Götze was the saviour for Germany in the 2014 World Cup. He scored the winning goal in the 113th minute to win Germanys 4th world cup.
His 3 year career at Bayern was underwhelming in totality. So much so that he made the move back to Dortmund in 2016.
5. Isco – 2012
In 2013, Isco’s talents at Malaga earned him the move to European giants Real Madrid. And in just his first season isco managed to help Madrid win the Champions League. Although he didn’t have the greatest contribution, he still impressively managed to score 3 goals and get 2 assists from only 6 starts.
On top of that, Isco went on to be victorious in Europe on four more occasions. Domestically Isco won 3 league titles, 2 Copa del Rey’s and 3 Supercopa de Espanas.
He ended his time at Real Madrid with 53 goals and 57 assists in 246 matches.
4. Sergio Agüero – 2007
Even before joining Manchester City, Agüero was expected to become a world class striker.
Agüero scored more than 10 goals in 4 out of his 5 seasons in Spain. Even scoring 20 in his final league campaign.
This momentum didn’t slow down as in his first season for City, he managed to score 23 goals including the iconic goal against QPR to win the title on the final day of the season. His remaining time in Manchester would follow suit as he consistently scored more than 15 goals for 7 consecutive seasons.
Although he never won the Champions League, he became a legend at city winning 5 Premier League titles an FA cup and 6 League cups. He is the clubs all time top goalscorer with a statue being built outside the stadium to honour him.
3. Cesc Fàbregas – 2006
The 2006 Golden Boy winner was none other than midfield maestro Cesc Fàbregas.
His time at Arsenal was his first taste of dominance being led by world class players such as Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp. And at the age of 18, Fàbregas helped Arsenal reach the Champions League final in 2006. He started 10 of the games and was subbed on in the remaining 3 games.
Fàbregas was a shining star throughout Arsenal’s rough spell. In the 2009/10 season the Spaniard scored 19 goals and got 19 assists as the gunners finished 3rd in the league.
Cesc returned to Barcelona in 2011 where he won a league title and a Copa del Rey. Ultimately he struggled to be a main starter as the midfield of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets functioned incredibly well already.
He made the move back to the Premier League in 2014 to play for Chelsea. In his first season, he played a crucial role in helping Chelsea win the league. For the second time in his Premier League career, he was the leagues top assister with 18 assists.
He ended his time at Chelsea with two league titles. A feat he didn’t manage to achieve at Arsenal.
Internationally, Fabregas’ career was a huge success. He was apart of the iconic Spanish team that dominated international football from 2008 to 2012.
The midfielder managed to get 2 assists in the Euro 2008 semi final, 1 assist in the 2012 Euro 2012 final and, most importantly, he provided the game winning assist in the 2010 World Cup final.
2. Wayne Rooney – 2004
Ever since his first Premier League goal grabbed all the headlines. It became clear he was always going to become a special player.
At only 16 years old, Rooney scored a last minute winning goal against Arsenal. This goal broke Arsenals 30 game unbeaten run and also made Wayne the youngest ever goal scorer in Premier League history.
His potential to rise to the top was noticed by Manchester United who bought him to Manchester in 2004. Rooney was Uniteds top league scorer in the 2004/5 season with 11 goals which earned him the PFA Young player of the year award. He won this award back to back.
The 2007/8 season birthed a frightening forward line composed of Carlos Tevez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.
Rooney was able to win the double with Manchester United as he registered 25 goal contributions in the league and 5 in the Champions League.
Rooneys time at the top was not just filled with trophies, but goals too. He holds the record for being United’s all time top scorer with 253 and was also England’s top scorer with 53 goals.
He was recently inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame. A special career for an even special player.
1. Lionel Messi – 2005
Theres only one man that could be number one. The greatest of all time, Lionel Messi.
After winning the Golden Boy award in 2005, Messi went on to win his first Champions League title in the following year. However, he was hardly a main contributor to the campaign as he only scored 1 goal in 6 games and was injured from the quarter finals onwards.
Messi became the centre piece for Barcelona for the next decade where he dominated Spanish football winning multiple La Liga titles.
His controversial success in 2006 Champions League was quickly forgotten as he helped his side win three additional Champions League trophies. This included a historic performance against Manchester United in 2011 with that side now being regarded as the best football team of all time.
On top of that, Messi was part of the best front three in football history, ‘MSN’, alongside team mates Neymar Jr and Luis Suarez.
On an individual level, Messis time at the top is something that football has never seen. He holds the record for most Balon d’Or’s won in football history, with 7, and is also the all time Barcelona and La Liga top scorer despite being the primary creative outlet throughout his entire career.
After losing out on the World Cup in 2014, Messi completed the fairy tale in 2022. He finally brought the prestigious trophy back to Argentina.
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