England's Anthony Gordon during a squad announcement and media day at St. George's Park, Burton-on-Trent. Picture date: Wednesday June 14, 2023.

The last 9 U21 Euro Golden Ball winners – & what happened next

Anthony Gordon has been named the Player of the Tournament after England won the U21 European Championship – and previous winners of the award have gone on to play for the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United.

Europe’s primary youth competition has given a platform for some extremely talented players to strut their stuff, with some going on to achieve great things in football.

As Gordon celebrates his personal achievement, we’ve taken a look back at the previous nine winners of the award and how they fared after their exploits in the youth tournament.

2021: Fabio Vieira

After being named player of the tournament, one of the technical observers said that Vieira is “a playmaker who creates a lot of chances and an excellent link between midfield and attack”.

This was showcased through Vieira being a vital cog in the Portuguese side, playing in all six of the group and knockout stages, netting once for the tournament runners-up.

The attacking midfielder joined Arsenal for £29.9 million in the summer of 2022, but his performances for Mikel Arteta’s side suggest he remains a work-in-progress rather than the finished article.

2019: Fabian Ruiz

Spain swept all before them in the 2019 edition, beating Germany 3-1 to win the trophy in Italy – with Fabian Ruiz as the heartbeat of the side.

The midfielder was lauded as ‘an all-rounder with an eye for a defence-splitting through ball, long-range shooting prowess and quick feet’ by UEFA’s technical committee.

His continued excellence at Napoli caught the attention of some of Europe’s richest clubs last summer and Fabian joined PSG on a five-year deal. He made 37 appearances for the French champions in 2022-23.

2017: Dani Ceballos

Two weeks after winning the Player of the Tournament award in 2017, Ceballos joined Real Madrid. Everybody was very excited about his potential.

It was during the semi-final and final that he “truly made his mark, showcasing his authority in possession, ability to dictate the tempo and eye for a pass that made him a key cog in a very slick Spanish machine.”

Arsenal fans have fond memories of Ceballos strutting his stuff in north London, even if his impact wasn’t quite as strong as some would tell you.

And Madrid value him highly enough to have recently extended his contract until the summer of 2027.

2015: William Carvalho

Perennially linked with Premier League clubs – it’s left us stumped that he hasn’t had an underwhelming six-month loan at West Ham – Carvalho made his name during the 2015 tournament in the Czech Republic.

William’s imposing figure and shrewdness on the ball were quickly to the fore in Portugal’s opening 1-0 victory against England,” said UEFA after Portugal’s defeat in the final to Sweden.

“He seemed to raise the bar by the minute, with both Italy and Sweden struggling to cope with his control and composure, not to mention the relentless drive that meant he covered more ground than any other player in the group stage.

“He was also particularly influential in providing cover to allow the more creative Bernardo Silva and Ivan Cavaleiro to wreak havoc going forward.”

Carvalho swapped Lisbon for Seville in 2018, joining Betis from Sporting, and has made 178 appearances for the La Liga side.

2013: Thiago Alcantara

Baller then, baller now.

2011: Juan Mata

Mata had already been part of Spain’s 2010 World Cup-winning squad before he linked up with the U21s a year later.

In a side containing David de Gea, Javi Martinez, Thiago, Ander Herrera and Iker Muniain, Mata was the star as Spain strolled through the competition and comfortably beat Switzerland 2-0 in the final.

“Whether instigating moves or getting on the end of them, he was a bright spark never dimmed in the Spanish attack,” UEFA noted, something Mata continued to do after joining Chelsea that summer.

His spell at Manchester United fizzled out somewhat, but Mata remains a Premier League cult hero. He’s now at Galatasaray.

2009: Marcus Berg

A Germany side containing Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Sami Khedria and Mesut Ozil won the tournament, but Berg top-scored for hosts Sweden with seven goals and was named the Player of the Tournament by UEFA.

“Blessed with grace, pace and poise under pressure, Berg captured the host nation’s imagination from the start, setting the tournament alight with a blistering hat-trick in a 5-1 opening win against Belarus,” European football’s governing body said.

His exploits earnt him a move to Bundesliga side Hamburg, but Berg failed to shine in Germany. The best spell of a nomadic career came in Greece, where the striker scored 95 goals in 151 matches for Panathinaikos.

Now aged 36, Berg is seeing out his career back in Sweden with IFK Goteborg.

2007: Royston Drenthe

“His marauding runs down the left brought an expectant crowd to their feet time and again, as the Netherlands proved irresistible,” wrote UEFA as Drenthe helped the Netherlands win the title in their own country.

While his talent was never in doubt, Drenthe’s application was frequently called into question and is now without a club following a brief spell playing alongside his cousin at Dutch lower-league club Kozakken Boys.

“No regrets at all. Everything happens for a reason,” he told the BBC in 2019. “I don’t regret anything because I’m happy with where I am and I’m happy with where I’ve been. I’m living my life at the moment.”

Real Madrid's Royston Drenthe reacts during the Champions League round of 16 soccer match between AS Roma and Real Madrid at Rome's Olympic Stadium, Tuesday Feb. 19, 2008.

READ: Where are they now? 9 forgotten Real Madrid wonderkids: Drenthe, Augusto, Vallejo…

2006: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

Going into the 2006 tournament after scoring 33 Eredivisie goals for Heerenveen and Ajax, Huntelaar fired his country to glory with an impressive four goals and scooped the Player of the Tournament award.

For the striker, the success was consolation for missing out on the Dutch World Cup squad. “That was a disappointment,” he said. “I was desperate to go, but when it isn’t possible, you have to move on. Once you get back on the pitch, you have your mind set on something else.”

Happily, Huntelaar would go on to make 76 appearances for his country and play at two subsequent World Cup finals.

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