Where are they now? The last 15 Golden Boy winners ft. Man Utd, Barcelona stars…
Jude Bellingham has become the latest recipient of Tuttosport’s prestigious Golden Boy award for the best young player in Europe.
“I’d like to thank everyone who has been part of my journey so far at Birmingham, Dortmund and now Madrid. It wouldn’t be possible without them,” the Real Madrid midfielder said after receiving the award.
“Lastly and most importantly my family who give me the support and motivation and love every day to keep striving. Now I have this prestigious award I want to keep going. I want to keep pushing the limits of my potential and hopefully many more trophies to come.”
While the Golden Boy award can sometimes be a pretty good indicator for future success, not all previous winners have lived up to their potential. Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney have both won the award, which is handed out to the best under-21 player in Europe over a calendar year.
We’ve taken a look back at the last 15 recipients of the award to see how they’ve fared since.
After winning the Premier League and Champions League in his debut season at Manchester United, Anderson was tipped to be Paul Scholes’ long-term successor.
But 2007-08 proved to be the highlight of his United career, as the midfielder was subsequently blighted by injury problems during his eight years at Old Trafford.
“I’d be more careful with injuries. But aside from that, I have no regrets,” Anderson told ESPN in 2018. “I loved to be at Manchester United, loved it. I can tell my kids that I won four Premier Leagues.”
The Brazilian finished his playing career at Turkish second division club Adana Demirspor and retired in September 2019 at the age of 31. In August 2021, he was charged by Brazilian police for being part of a cryptocurrency fraud and money laundering scheme.
Pato was crowned the Golden Boy winner in 2009 after enjoying an incredible start to his AC Milan career.
However, injuries began to take their toll and the striker returned to his native Brazil in 2013 before making a brief return to Europe with Chelsea and Villarreal.
He’s now back in Brazil at Sao Paolo and was responsible for the best celebration of 2023.
Balotelli was part of Jose Mourinho’s treble-winning side at Inter Milan, moving to Manchester City in 2010 before winning the award later that year.
Former Arsenal star Jack Wilshere finished in second place, but the Italian claimed that he didn’t even know who the midfielder was.
“What’s his name? Wil … ? No, I don’t know him, but the next time I play against Arsenal I will keep a close eye on him,” Balotelli said. “Perhaps I can show him the Golden Boy trophy and remind him that I won it.”
City boss Roberto Mancini eventually grew tired of his off-field antics and the striker was shipped off to AC Milan in 2013.
Following a disastrous spell with Liverpool in 2014-15, he tried to rebuild his career in France – showing flashes of brilliance – before joining hometown club Brescia in 2019.
After repeatedly missing training, the striker was released in 2020 and briefly held talks with Championship side Barnsley.
He’s now playing for Adana Demirspor, who seem to love a wayward former Golden Boy, and is still up to no good.
Gotze seemed destined for greatness after helping Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund side win back-to-back Bundesliga titles.
The German completed a £31.5million move to arch-rivals Bayern Munich in 2013, but he failed to nail down a starting spot under Pep Guardiola.
He was a shadow of his former self during his second spell at Dortmund and is now playing for fellow Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt.
Gotze may not have fulfilled his potential, but not many players can say they’ve scored the winning goal in a World Cup final.
On this day 5 years ago, Super Mario was @DFB_Team_EN's hero at the 2014 World Cup Final 🇩🇪🏆
— Borussia Dortmund (@BlackYellow) July 13, 2019
Isco rose to prominence under Manuel Pellegrini at Malaga and fought off competition from Stephan El Shaarawy to win the award in 2012.
His performances attracted the attention of several big European clubs and the midfielder joined Real Madrid in 2013.
The playmaker won three La Liga titles and five Champions Leagues during his nine years at the Bernabeu. He’s now playing for Real Betis and has already become a crowd favourite in Andalucia.
Pogba left Manchester United for Juventus in 2012 in search of regular first-team football and his decision was vindicated when he won the Golden Boy award in 2013.
During his four years in Italy, he developed into one of the best midfielders in the world, winning four Serie A titles and two Coppas Italia.
United spent £89million to bring him back to the club in 2016 and spent six frustrating years at Old Trafford despite being an instrumental member of the French team that won the 2018 World Cup.
He’s now facing a long ban from football after failing a drugs test. We wonder what Graeme Souness made of the news when he heard…
Sterling announced himself to the world with a string of excellent displays for Liverpool as the Reds narrowly missed out on the Premier League title in 2014.
The winger went on to join Manchester City for £50million in 2015 but endured a difficult debut season at the Etihad.
Under the guidance of Pep Guardiola, he became one of the most dangerous attackers in the Premier League, winning four league titles.
He was sold to Chelsea in 2022 and is currently one of their best players.
Manchester United spent £36million on the relatively unproven forward in 2015, with some criticising the club for a panic buy.
Martial proved those doubters wrong and enjoyed a blistering start to his United career, coming off the bench to score a sensational solo goal against Liverpool on his debut.
After having a turbulent relationship with Jose Mourinho, the France international looked like he had recovered some form under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 2019-20.
But it proved to be another false dawn; Martial is still at Old Trafford despite only fitfully contributing under Erik ten Hag.
After helping Portugal win Euro 2016, it came as no surprise when Sanches was named as the Golden Boy winner later that year.
The midfielder had already completed a big-money move to Bayern Munich, but he failed to live up to expectations in Germany.
He had a disastrous loan spell at Swansea City and was eventually sold to Ligue 1 side Lille in 2019.
“It’s all in the past now. Now is the moment when I have to redeem myself,” Sanches told L’Equipe in February 2020. “It’s now when I have to show everyone my best football – my family and the people who have helped me a lot.”
He did that and more in France, helping Lille to their first Ligue 1 title in a decade in 2021, and earning a move to PSG.
Sanches is spending the 2023-24 season on loan at Roma, who have an obligation to buy the midfielder if certain conditions are met, but we won’t hold that against him. Plenty of players have been sucked into the PSG vortex before now.
Mbappe burst onto the scene with Monaco but had already agreed to join PSG for €180million before picking up the award in 2017.
He has continued to go from strength to strength in Ligue 1, scoring over 250 career goals.
The France international also led his country to World Cup success in 2018, becoming the first teenager since Pele to score in the final, and scored a hat-trick in the incredible 2022 final against Argentina for good measure.
Matthijs de Ligt
De Ligt finished ahead of Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold in 2018, becoming the first defender in history to win the award.
The centre-back then captained Ajax to a domestic double in 2018-19 and helped them reach the semi-finals of the Champions League.
Juventus won the race for his signature in 2019 and the 22-year-old won the Serie A title in his debut season.
But his form dipped and the Netherlands international was sold to Bayern Munich in 2022.
Felix enjoyed an incredible breakthrough season at Benfica and received the award in 2019.
The Portugal international cost Atletico Madrid a staggering £113million last summer, but he endured an indifferent debut season at the Wanda Metropolitano.
“He started with great enthusiasm,” Diego Simeone told beIN SPORTS in March 2020. “He had two injuries that took him out of that continuity.”
“Hopefully he gets to where he suggested he could, because in the case of young boys it is a consequence of where one wants to go. If he wants to go far, he can.”
His form at the Metropolitano has remained inconsistent and a spell at Chelsea last season was summarised by a red card on his debut in a defeat at Fulham.
Still only 23, Felix is currently on loan at Barcelona and we hope his talent can blossom under Xavi.
Pedri won the Golden Boy award in 2021 with a total of 318 points in the voting – 199 ahead of nearest rival Jude Bellingham, which was the largest ever margin between a Golden Boy winner and runner-up.
That reflects just how special his performances were for Spain and Barcelona, and nothing in the intervening years has suggested the hype has been misplaced.
Gavi beat the likes of Bellingham, Edouard Camavinga and Jamal Muisala to the 2022 award after his stellar performances for Barcelona and Spain.
“It’s an honour to receive this prize and to all the people who have been there in the good and bad times. Thanks to all of those who have played a part in helping me to this award,” the midfielder said.
“I try to give the best of myself at all times. I try to carry myself in the best way.”
Still in his teens, Gavi played 49 times during Barcelona’s 2022-23 La Liga-winning campaign and is fast becoming one of football’s scrappiest ballers.