The Golden Boy is an accolade given by sports journalists to a young footballer in Europe who has been deemed the most remarkable over a calendar year. All nominees must be under the age of 21 and play in the top division of a European country. Tuttosport, an Italian sports daily, launched the award in 2003. Each juror is allowed to nominate five players, with 10 points going to the most impressive player, 7 points going to the second most impressive player, 5 points going to the third most impressive player, 3 points going to the fourth most impressive player, and 1 point going to the fifth most impressive player.
The annual awards start in November, with Norwegian striker Erling Haaland being named the Golden Boy winner for the 2020 calendar year. Haaland has walked in the footsteps of some of the game's legends. The trophy was first won by Dutch veteran Rafael van der Vaart in 2003 and has since been picked up by players like Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Sergio Aguero, and Cesc Fabregas, as well as current stars like Raheem Sterling, Paul Pogba, De Ligt, and Kylian Mbappe. What about those who were tipped for greatness but never quite made the grade at the top level of competition? Even though all recipients of this prize are seen to have incredible potential, a large proportion of them have fallen short of their expectations. Here are a few players that earned the prestigious honor but didn't quite live up to the hype.
1. Anderson – 2008 winner
Anderson began his career with Gremio, a local team in Ronaldinho's birthplace of Porto Alegre. Early comparisons to the two-time World Player of the Year arose due to their comparable career paths. Anderson made an impression early in his football career, earning a transfer to Porto in 2006, three months before his 18th birthday. Manchester United shelled the cash to lure him to Old Trafford after just one season in Portugal for an estimated sum of over €30 million. After joining Manchester United in 2008, he earned the Golden Boy award. However, his form dipped and he never got his mojo back.
2. Alexandre Pato – 2009 winner
Pato had been a free agent for more than six months when Sao Paulo agreed to terminate his contract, even though he had just recently turned 31. In February 2021, he joined Orlando City of the Major League Soccer. Pato made headlines as a confident 17-year-old when he broke Pele's record for the youngest goalscorer in a FIFA-organized competition while playing for Internacional. Pato, who was already a star in Italy, gained international prominence in October 2009 when he scored a Champions League brace in a historic 3-2 triumph over Real Madrid. Pato was at his finest with AC Milan between 2007 and 2010, therefore it's fair to say he peaked far too soon, as his performances have plummeted dramatically since then.
3. Mario Balotelli – 2010 winner
Balotelli, who won the award in 2010, is the first Italian player to have received recognition for his achievements at such a young age. Balotelli has had nine different periods at eight different teams in the nine years after earning the Golden Boy title and has never stayed at a club for more than three seasons in his 16-year career. Multiple managers have complained about his work ethic on the field as well as his attitude and conduct off it, and many believe this has contributed to him not reaching his full potential. He returned to Italy the next summer, joining Brescia, before transferring to Serie B team Monza in December 2020, after a period with fellow French club Marseille in January 2019.
4. Mario Goetze – 2011 winner
Goetze was well-known in the football world after scoring Germany's World Cup-winning goal in 2014. After seven years and a dismal downward trend, the erstwhile golden kid has reached the crossroads. Goetze debuted in Germany when he was 18 years old and won the Golden Boy award in 2011. Gotze signed a two-year deal with PSV Eindhoven on a free transfer on the final day of the season after being without a buyer for the majority of the year. The 28-year-old German may be able to reclaim his form in the Netherlands, but his fall from grace has been surprising.
5. Isco – 2012 winner
The fifth consecutive golden boy winner who failed to reach his maximum potential, Isco still has a contract with Real Madrid. A look at Isco's national team record encapsulates the decline of his form. After ten goals in eight and eleven caps in 2017 and 2018, he has yet to score in two games in 2019. Spain has not played this season, but the erstwhile jewel in Real Madrid's crown would not be included in their 2021 plans. Real Madrid is now determined to trade Isco this summer before he becomes a free agent in 2022. Ronaldo has been a bit-part player at the Santiago Bernabeu for a few years now, but his future at the club is more in jeopardy than ever now that his contract is coming to an end.
6. Anthony Martial – 2015 winner
Martial began his professional career at Lyon after playing youth football for Les Ulis. He was then transferred to AS Monaco in 2013 for a cost of €6 million. He spent two seasons with Monaco before joining Manchester United in 2015 for an initial cost of £36 million. He was awarded the Golden Boy Award in 2015. Anthony Martial's career has been marred by injuries and inconsistencies. The forward has not been able to replicate his success from his first season with United, and many believe he will never reach his full potential. With Sancho's signing, the Frenchman's time appears to be running out. Before United makes a bold move, Martial must resurrect his career.
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