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Rooney, Messi, Pato or Isco or the Golden Boy winners since 2003. Who has not fulfilled their potential?

The Golden Boy Award is presented each year to the best young player under 21 years of age playing in Europe’s top competitions. The poll started in 2003, several winners have confirmed their talent and some were expected to have better careers.



The Golden Boy Award is presented each year to the best young player under 21 years of age playing in Europe’s top competitions. The poll started in 2003, several winners have confirmed their talent and some were expected to have better careers.

Rafael van der Vaart – 2003

The first ever winner of the Golden Boy award is Rafael van der Vaart. The then Ajax player made it all the way to Real Madrid via Hamburg in his career. He also played for Tottenham before returning to Hamburg. He played 109 games for the Dutch national team and scored 25 goals.

Wayne Rooney – 2004

An absolute legend at Manchester United. His career doesn’t even need much introduction, he spent 13 years at Old Trafford and became the top scorer in the club’s history, he is also the top scorer in the history of the English national team. His talent was so immense that he left even Cristiano Ronaldo behind when he won the Golden Boy award.

Lionel Messi – 2005

One of the best footballers of all time. It would probably be pointless to list all the achievements of his career. He was the only one of all the Golden Boy winners to go on to win the same award, only among adults. He’s taken home the Golden Ball seven times.

Cesc Fàbregas – 2006

Fàbregas has had a fabulous career. Seven years at Arsenal, three years at Barcelona, five years at Chelsea. Now in his fourth year, he’s finishing his career at Monaco. Among other things, he won the World Cup with Spain and the European Championship twice.

Sergio Agüero – 2007

Sure, at a club without much history, it may not carry that much weight, but it’s still an achievement. Agüero has become Manchester City’s biggest icon and legend, is its top scorer and has been the face of the Citizens’ rise. He took the Golden Boy award as a youngster at Atlético Madrid, scoring over 420 goals in his prolific career.

Anderson – 2008

Brazilian midfielder who excelled at Manchester United at the time. Much more was expected of him but since the end of Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure, his career has slowly begun to fade. He eventually left the Red Devils in 2015, but only played 7 games on loan at Fiorentina and returned to his native Brazil. He retired in 2019 at the age of 30.

Alexandre Pato – 2009

The second ranked Brazilian, Pato was shining at AC Milan at the time. But that was his only successful engagement. In 2013, he returned to Brazilian side Corinthians, and in 2016 he cut a brief, two-match stint at Chelsea. Then he played for a while at Villarreal, in China and in Sao Paulo. He sinned a lot about his talent, but he didn’t want to work hard.

Mario Balotelli – 2010

The third winner in a row who was expected to have a much better career. Mario had tremendous talent but didn’t want to work hard, was the bad child of football and made a few messes. Still, the list of clubs in his career is awe-inspiring. Inter Milan, Manchester City, AC Milan, Liverpool.

Mario Götze – 2011

The golden boy of German football. He was supposed to be the next Messi and he had a rocket start to his career. After success at Dortmund, he moved to Bayern Munich, scoring Germany’s winning goal in the 2014 World Cup final. But then his career stalled, he returned to Dortmund where he didn’t play much anymore. Currently, at 29, he plays for PSV Eindhoven.

Isco – 2012

El mago. The Spanish midfielder with brilliant technique excelled at Málaga. With a modest total, he reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League, where he was knocked out by Dortmund with two goals in stoppage time. But the talented youngster was bought by Real Madrid and Isco was an important man in winning 4 Champions League trophies. Now he will be quitting Madrid and looking for a new deal, while he is still only 29 years old.

Paul Pogba – 2013

At one time the most expensive player in the world, when Manchester United weren’t afraid to pay over €100 million for Pogba. World champion with France in 2018, but expected more trophies at Old Trafford. He is out of contract at United in the summer and will likely enter the final phase of his career.

Raheem Sterling – 2014

Liverpool super talent who was snapped up by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. Under the demanding Spanish coach, he finally reached his potential and also became a key player for the England national team.

Anthony Martial – 2015

His arrival at Manchester United was lightning fast. In the following seasons he was one of the driving forces of the Red Devils, but in the current one his performances were so bad and “poisoned” that the fans wanted him out of the club. Martial went on loan to Sevilla in January, but even there he is not doing too well.

Renato Sanches – 2016

A clear winner in 2016. At 18, Renato Sanches bossed the Portuguese midfield that dominated the European Championships. This discovery was bought out of Benfica by Bayern Munich, only he didn’t make it there. After a loan spell at Swansea, he landed at Lille, with whom he won the Ligue 1 title last year. He was expected to have a slightly better career, but he is still only 24, so he still has time.

Kylian Mbappé – 2017

The future ruler of world football, no doubt about it. Already taking over the role of Ronaldo and Messi, overshadowing his Argentine teammate at PSG speaks volumes. At the age of 23, he already has over 200 goals to his name and is expected to leave for Real Madrid in the summer. A future multiple Ballon d’Or winner.

Matthijs de Ligt – 2018

Already the second Ajax academy product on this list. De Ligt was a member of the golden generation and historically the youngest ever Ajax captain to lead the side to the Champions League semi-finals. He currently plays for Juventus Turin.

João Félix – 2019

And with Ajax’s academy winning twice, another of the best academies in the world, Benfica Lisbon, must join in for a second time. Félix shone for the A-team in the 2018/19 season, so much so that Atlético Madrid didn’t hesitate to shell out €127 million for him. He struggles with the fact that the Colchoneros’ style of play doesn’t completely suit him, but he often brings out his genius anyway.

Erling Haaland – 2020

The first winner born in the 21st century. Hailed as a future football king alongside Mbappé, Haaland’s ability to score goals is astonishing. He is still only 21 years old, but has already netted 129 goals in 176 games in club football, adding 13 goals in 16 starts for Norway.

Pedri – 2021

For now, the latest winner of the Golden Boy poll. Almost nobody knew Pedri back in the summer of 2020, but he made tremendous progress last season, becoming a key player for both Barcelona and the Spanish national team and playing more than an incredible 70 games. His technical ability is at a huge level, much like Andrés Iniesta.

Gavi – 2022

The Golden Boy winner for 2022 was quite surprising and let’s face it, quite unfair. Not that we want to take away from Gavi’s qualities, he is certainly a great talent, however both Jude Bellingham and Jamal Musiala are well ahead of the game and according to all the experts should have won the award.