The best and worst Golden Boy

The rivalry between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo of the last decade or so has left many things in the world of football and one of them has been the importance that the Ballon d'Or, the main individual award in the sport, has won. A couple of steps below, we find an award that is much "younger" than the Ballon d'Or but has gained some relevance over the years: the Golden Boy.

The Golden Boy is an award that was started by the sports newspaper Tuttosport in 2003 that rewards the best under-21 player in Europe during the calendar year. As the seasons go by, the award has gained its own fame as a kind of Ballon d'Or for young players and that has given it some media coverage.

However, the fact that under-21 players are rewarded, that is to say, players who have barely 3 years as a professional at most, or seen in another way, players who have almost their entire career ahead of them, so you can be rewarding the next big star on the world scene or the next failed promise.

In this sense, we bring the best and worst Golden Boy since the creation of the award.

The best Golden Boys


Wayne Rooney

Rooney was one of the most important breakthroughs that the Premier League has had in its history, at least since it was rebranded as that back in 1992. At just 16 years old, he appeared on the scene with Everton's first team and almost immediately made an impact in English football for his physique, power, ability and shooting and this caught the attention of other clubs such as Newcastle or Manchester United, with the latter eventually signing him in the summer of 2004 for a record transfer fee at the time for a under-20 player.

In that same 2004, he would be rewarded with the Golden Boy and would support it with an excellent performance with the Red Devils where he was gaining his own importance within the club with great performances both in England and Europe. Rooney's capacity to move around the pitch, in addition to his workrate, made him an excellent wild card for Sir Alex Ferguson who could line him up without harming the other stars of the team as Wayne was capable of adapting to several positions.

Among many other records, Rooney is the all-time top scorer for Manchester United and the England national team, the second-highest goalscorer in Premier League history, the third-highest when it comes to assists in the Premier League and the most capped outfield player in the England national team.

Kylian Mbappé
Kylian Mbappé showing how far he can stretch

Kylian Mbappé

Although he is still a very young player and we do not know how he can finish his career, especially after the decision to stay at Paris Saint Germain instead of signing for Real Madrid, the truth is that Mbappé has already had several significant achievements and he is, today, one of the main figures in world football without a doubt.

Mbappé would also make his professional debut at the age of 16, in 2015, with the first team of AS Monaco, a club with which he became known in France and Europe and he even helped them won the Ligue 1 over the powerhouse that was PSG back in 2017. In that same year, he won the Golden Boy and he would sign for Paris Saint Germain to win everything in France on several occasions. In addition, he was an important part of the consecration of France in the 2018 World Cup at just 18 years old.

Lionel Messi

In this case, there is little to say about the player that has not already been said. Lionel Messi is undoubtedly the greatest success of the Golden Boy award in its short history, which was awarded to him in 2005. The Argentine, who began his career as a youth product in his country, in the lower categories of Newell's in his native Rosario, but at a very young age he immigrated to Spain to join the youth team of FC Barcelona where he would make his professional debut at the age of 16 under the guidance of Dutch manager Frank Rijkaard in 2005.

In the Catalan club he became the institution's all-time idol, being the top scorer in Barcelona's history, the top assist-maker, the player with the most appearances in the "Blaugrana" shirt as well as winning multiple team trophies on several occasions. Additionally, he is the player with the most Ballon d'Or in history with seven as well as many other recognitions and records with his national team and world records.

The worst Golden Boys


Anderson

Just as we have success stories within the Golden Boy, we also have others with not so happy endings and it is, for example, the case of Anderson, a talented Brazilian player who broke into Brazil at a very young age (16 years old) with the Gremio side of his native Porto Alegre. At the age of 18, he was signed by FC Porto, where he would remain for only a year and a half before arriving at Manchester United, who paid 30 million euros for his signing in 2007. That same year, at just 19 years of age, he would make his debut with the Brazilian national team.

After a good first season at Old Trafford, Anderson would win the Golden Boy, but his star gradually faded until he was practically not taken into account by the English club. The Brazilian, with a relaxed personality, had an unprofessional life where some of his teammates said that "he didn't seem to care about anything" and that included his diet, which was something that ended up affecting him a lot on the pitch due to his predilection for burgers.

Alexandre Pato
Alexandre Pato can also strech

Alexandre Pato

Another Brazilian who started out in Porto Alegre, but in the club Internacional, seemed like he would be the heir to the great Brazilian strikers in history and caught the attention of Carlo Ancelotti's powerful AC Milan of the mid-2000s, a club that would pay 24 million euros for him, when he only was 17 years old, although he could only be registered by the Italian club when he turned 18. Alexandre Pato arrived at a Milan that had names such as Ronaldo, Cafu, Maldini, Clarence Seedorf, Nesta, Andrea Pirlo or Kaká, among many others.

His first years in Italy made one think that the Brazilian could meet the expectations that surrounded him almost from his professional debut, leading him to win the Golden Boy in 2008. However, injuries and his hectic nightlife kept him away from that level of play that led him to be part of one of the biggest clubs in the world. After several years in Milan, he would travel the world seeking to recover the spotlight, something that he never achieved.

Mario Balotelli

As in the case of Messi, there is little that can be said in these lines that has not already been said about Mario Balotelli, although not in the same sense. The Italian became known at Inter Milan where he debuted as a professional in 2007 as a striker who combined great physical power with very good technique, suggesting that this mixture would make him the next great football star.

In 2010, Manchester City, still in the early years of the new ownership, paid 25 million euros to take him to England where he had a discreet performance and stood out much more for what he did off the pitch than for what he did on it. After two and a half years in Manchester, he spent a year and a half at AC Milan, with a good level that allowed him to return to England, in this case, to Liverpool, where he had a season to forget.

Then there would be a return to AC Milan, Nice in France (the calm of the Côte d'Azur helped him to recover his best version), Olympique de Marseille, a return to Italy and later on the adventure in Turkish football. The reality is that Balotelli had the potential to be one of the best players in the world, but his mind did not allow him to reach the level that was expected of him.

It is interesting how different an award can be for young players compared to that for adult players since there are many factors that affect the development of a professional career and that can have positive or negative impacts, as we could see in the previous examples.
Kelvin Tingling knows most things about football and also likes to write about it. Kelvin lives in Buenos Aires and his favorite team is Boca Juniors.