Golden Boy award: Which footballers have won it and what happened to every winner?

  • Rob Swan

Barcelona midfielder Pedri has been crowned winner of the 2021 Golden Boy award.

The 18-year-old sealed 24 of the 40 first-place votes and 318 points in total to win the annual prize, which is awarded to a European-based player aged 21 or under.

Pedri, who joined Barcelona from Las Palmas in 2020 and was named in the Euro 2020 Team of the Tournament after impressing with Spain, comfortably finished in pole position ahead of Borussia Dortmund and England star Jude Bellingham (119 points).

The gifted midfielder becomes the 19th winner of the Golden Boy award, established by Italian publication Tuttosport, and follows in the footsteps of some of the best footballers of the current and previous generations.


But who were the previous 18 winners and what happened to them?

Let’s take a closer look…

2003: Rafael van der Vaart

The maiden winner of the inaugural Golden Boy award back in 2003, Rafael van der Vaart remained with his first club Ajax before joining Hamburger SV in 2005.

The Dutch playmaker sealed a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid in 2008 but only spent two years at the Bernabeu before moving on to Tottenham, where he became a fan favourite.

Van der Vaart, who scored 25 goals in 109 appearances for the Netherlands national team, also had spells at Real Betis and Midtjylland before bringing the curtain down on his career in 2018 following a brief stint with Danish outfit Esbjerg fB.


2004: Wayne Rooney

One of the most talented teenagers in the history of English football, Wayne Rooney burst onto the scene with Everton before lighting up Euro 2004 with England.

The powerful forward sealed a £27 million move to Manchester United off the back of that tournament and went on to become the Red Devils’ all-time leading goalscorer over the course of the next 13 years.

Rooney, who also broke Sir Bobby Charlton’s long-standing record to become England’s record goalscorer, returned to Everton for one season in 2017 and also played for DC United and Derby County before announcing his retirement in January 2021 in order to become the Rams’ permanent manager.


2005: Lionel Messi

Arguably the greatest footballer of all time, Lionel Messi went on to exceed all expectations after winning the Golden Boy award in 2005.

The six-time Ballon d’Or winner scored a remarkable 672 goals in 778 appearances for Barcelona before completing a shock move to Paris Saint-Germain in 2021.

Messi has also scored 80 goals in 158 appearances for Argentina and will be desperate to land his hands on the World Cup before hanging up his boots. Qatar 2022 is likely to be his final opportunity.


2006: Cesc Fabregas

Cesc Fabregas won the Golden Boy award during his Arsenal days and stayed with the Gunners until 2011 when he completed an emotional return to Barcelona.

After three years at Camp Nou, however, Fabregas returned to London… this time signing for Chelsea.

Fabregas, a World Cup winner with Spain, won two Premier League titles at Stamford Bridge before joining AS Monaco in January 2019.


2007: Sergio Aguero

One of the greatest strikers of the Premier League era, Sergio Aguero excelled at Atletico Madrid before becoming one of Manchester City’s first superstar signings in 2011.

The Argentine went on to cement his status as a City legend over the next decade, scoring 260 goals in 390 appearances.

Aguero joined Barcelona in the summer of 2021 but is expected to announce his retirement aged 33 due to a heart condition.


2008: Anderson

It’s easy to forget that Anderson was one of world football’s most highly-rated youngsters when he was at FC Porto.

The Brazilian midfielder struggled with injuries and inconsistency at Manchester United, though, and his career eventually petered out following spells with Internacional, Coritiba and Adana Demirspor.

He retired in September 2019 aged just 31.


2009: Alexandre Pato

A phenomenon during his early days in Brazil with Internacional, people were initially comparing Alexandre Pato to the great Brazilian striker Ronaldo.

Sadly, Pato failed to live up to the hype, although he still enjoyed a reasonably good career, playing for the likes of AC Milan (where he won the Golden Boy award), Corinthians, Chelsea, Villarreal and Sao Paulo.

The 32-year-old currently plies his trade with Orlando City.


2010: Mario Balotelli

Ah, Mario. Where do we start with Mario?

It’s been said time and time again down the years that Balotelli could have been anything he wanted if only his attitude was better. The Italian constantly made headlines (often for the wrong reasons) during his three-year spell with Manchester City.

Balotelli also played for AC Milan, Liverpool, Nice, Marseille, Brescia, Monza and now, at the age of 31, is playing his football with Adana Demirspor in Turkey.


2011: Mario Gotze

Mario Gotze hasn’t developed into the world-class playmaker that many people expected back in 2011, although the Germany international is one of the few footballers in history to score the winning goal in a World Cup final.

Gotze, who is still only 29, returned to Borussia Dortmund in 2016 following three years at Bayern Munich and joined PSV Eindhoven in 2020.


2012: Isco

Isco is a supremely talented footballer who won the Golden Boy award at Malaga before signing for Real Madrid in 2013.

The Spain international has won a host of major honours with Los Blancos, including four Champions Leagues and two La Ligas, but it’s hard not to feel that his career has suffered slightly by not moving elsewhere in recent years.

Isco would be one of the first names on the teamsheet at almost every club in the world but that hasn’t always been the case at the Bernabeu.


2013: Paul Pogba

Does Paul Pogba regret his decision to rejoin Manchester United from Juventus in 2016? Only he can answer that question but there’s no doubt that his career has stalled since moving back to Old Trafford.

Widely regarded as one of the world’s best midfielders at Juve, Pogba has struggled to perform consistently in the Premier League and has received more than his fair share of criticism as a result.

The World Cup winner is expected to leave United on a free transfer at the end of the 2021-22 campaign.


2014: Raheem Sterling

Winner of the 2014 Golden Boy award thanks to his eye-catching form with Liverpool, Raheem Sterling went on to complete a controversial move to Manchester City in 2015.

Six years later and Sterling is still at the Etihad Stadium and has three Premier League winners’ medals in his collection.

There is talk, however, that the England international could leave City in 2022.


2015: Anthony Martial

Anthony Martial is still only 25 and there’s plenty of time for the Frenchman to blossom into a world-class forward, but that’s now looking increasingly unlikely with each season that passes by.

It may sound brutal but few Manchester United fans would be disappointed if Martial was to leave Old Trafford in 2022.

The goals have dried up and his performance levels often leave a lot to be desired.


2016: Renato Sanches

It’s been a rollercoaster few years for Renato Sanches, who looked incredible at Benfica before joining Bayern Munich in 2016.

A disastrous loan move to Swansea City during the 2017-18 season set the Portuguese midfielder back a long way but a move to Lille in 2019 helped to resurrect his career.

Now 24, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the 2016 Golden Boy winner secure a move to another top European club in the near future.


2017: Kylian Mbappe

At this stage, it would be a surprise if Kylian Mbappe doesn’t end his career with at least one Ballon d’Or award to his name.

The Frenchman may feel that he needs to leave Paris Saint-Germain in order to fulfil his potential, and it’s expected that he’ll eventually end up signing for Real Madrid.

Mbappe, who has scored 139 goals in 187 matches for PSG at the time of writing, has all the tools required to become one of the best forwards in history.


2018: Matthijs de Ligt

Matthijs de Ligt first caught the eye with Ajax and completed a €75 million move to Juventus in July 2019.

The 22-year-old Dutch defender is still in the process of learning his trade.


2019: Joao Felix

Atletico Madrid splashed out a staggering €126 million to sign Joao Felix from Benfica in 2019 after losing Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona.

It’s fair to say that Diego Simeone would have expected a better return than 20 goals in Felix’s first 87 appearances for Atleti but there’s absolutely no doubt that the talent to become a global superstar is there.


2020: Erling Haaland

And last, but by no means least, it’s 2020’s winner Erling Haaland.

One of the most talented teenage strikers to emerge in years, Haaland has scored a ridiculous 70 goals in his first 69 games for Borussia Dortmund.

Like Mbappe, Haaland is surely destined to win the Ballon d’Or one day.


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