The Golden Boy award is an annual award given by sports journalists to the best Under-21 player in Europe. Conceived in 2003, the prestigious award has been awarded to the likes of Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Sergio Aguero and Kylian Mbappe among others. However, few winners of the award have failed to hit the heights of the other winners and we picked out five such players.
5. ANDERSON – 2008
Anderson is one of two Brazilians to win the award. In 2008, he won the Premier League, Champions League and Club World Cup with Manchester United and the Olympic Bronze medal with Brazil. He played 38 games each in his first two seasons with the club but didn’t play more than 30 games in any of the seasons that followed.
The Brazilian’s stint with Manchester United fizzled out with injury problems and fitness issues and by the time he left the club in 2015 after seven and a half seasons, he only played 181 games, scoring nine goals. He also didn’t play for Brazil after 2008 – the year in which he won the Golden Boy award.
In 2015, he moved back to Brazil with Internacional before moving to Turkish second division club Adana Demirspor ahead of the 2018/19 season.
4. ALEXANDRE PATO – 2009
Alexandre Pato was once considered the heir to Ronaldo Nazario in the Brazil national team. Pato moved to Milan in 2007 and caught the eye with his impressive performances and before he turned 22, he scored 57 goals in 127 games for Rossoneri.
He was awarded the Golden Boy award in 2009, the year in which he was named the Serie A Young Footballer of the Year and also won the Confederations Cup.
After the 2010/11 season, Pato struggled with injuries and in the next season and a half, he only played 25 games and scored six times. The extent of his injury woes is summed up by the fact that he injured his hamstring thrice in less than a year.
In 2013, Pato returned to Brazil to play for Corinthians before joining Sao Paulo on loan. For the two Brazilian clubs combined, he scored 55 goals in 160 games. In 2016, he returned to Europe on loan to play for Chelsea but he only played twice in half a season for the Blues with his only goal for the club coming from the spot.
After leaving Chelsea, Pato signed permanently for Villarreal playing 24 games and scoring six goals before leaving the club midway through the 2016/17 season to join Chinese Super League club Tianjin Quanjian for whom he still plays.
3. MARIO BALOTELLI – 2010
Mario Balotelli was part of Inter Milan’s treble-winning side of 2010. Although he played a backup role in Jose Mourinho’s side, he still scored 11 times in 40 games for Inter that season. The year 2010 only got better for the Italian striker as he won his first cap for Italy’s senior side before becoming the first and so far the only Italian to win the Golden Boy award.
In 2010, he also moved to Manchester City and won the FA Cup in his debut season before winning the Premier League in 2011/12. At City, his behavioural issues made more headlines than his performance on the pitch and he was eventually sold to Milan in January 2013.
He scored 30 times in 54 games for Milan before returning to the Premier League with Liverpool ahead of the 2014/15 season. Balotelli struggled at Liverpool and scored just 4 times in 28 games for the Reds including one in 16 Premier League games. The following season, he returned to Milan on loan and his struggle continued with him scoring just thrice in 23 games.
Ahead of the 2016/17 season, Balotelli was completely left out of the Liverpool squad by Jurgen Klopp and with no buyers available for the player, Liverpool allowed him to move on a free transfer. On deadline day, he joined Ligue 1 club Nice and has been with them since scoring 43 times in 68 games.
Despite a resurgence in form while playing for Nice, it would be fair to say that he hasn’t lived up the potential he showed while he was at Inter.
2. MARIO GOTZE – 2011
Mario Gotze is the only German to win the award and the first award winner to score in a World Cup final. Despite scoring the winner in a World Cup final three years after he was named the Golden Boy, Gotze still features in this list.
In 2011, Gotze was named in the Bundesliga Team of the Year, was named the Bundesliga Young Player of the Year and won his first league title with Dortmund. In 2013, he moved to Bayern Munich and scored 30 goals in his first two seasons with the club. It was after the 2014/15 season that his career graph spiralled down.
Gotze missed several games in the 15/16 season due to injuries and fell down the pecking order at Bayern Munich under Pep Guardiola. The following season, he moved back to Dortmund and midway through the season he was diagnosed with a metabolic disease which can cause fatigue and weight gain. This illness explained the fitness problems that troubled him at Bayern and at Dortmund.
He returned to action ahead of the 2017/18 season but only made 19 starts in the league and scored two goals. Although he has recovered from his illness, he hasn’t hit the form that made him a Dortmund regular during his first stint. This season, his only appearance in the league so far has come off the bench.
1. RENATO SANCHES – 2016
In 2016, Renato Sanches completed his first season with the Benfica senior team, won the domestic double, was named Primeira Liga’s breakthrough player, completed a €35 million move to Bayern Munich, won the Euro with Portugal, was named the tournament’s best young player and won the Golden Boy award.
After a terrific start to his professional career, big things were expected of Sanches but he only started nine games for Bayern Munich in all competitions in his first season and didn’t register a goal or an assist. The tough fight for a starting spot in the Bayern’s side with experienced players didn’t help his development and he moved to Swansea City on loan for the 2017/18 season.
Sanches’ stint in the Premier League was disastrous, to say the least. He only played 15 games in all competitions for the Swans and made just nine starts in the league for a team that was relegated.
The 21-year-old is now back at Bayern Munich and scored his first goal in over two years in his first start of the season. There are signs of improvement after two difficult seasons but he has a long way to go before becoming a first-team regular for the Bavarian side.