Best Ever Winners of Golden Boy Award in Football

On 20th June 2023, the rather lengthy long list for the 2023 European Golden Boy award was announced. Jude Bellingham is the most likely English winner, although there are seven other English players in with a shout, whilst 13 of the 100 in the running played in the Premier League during the 2022/23 season.

Looking back at the previous winners, there is an incredibly high chance that whoever does win will go on to have a truly stellar footballing career. In this article, we take a look at the greatest-ever players to have won the Golden Boy award. We’ll also detail the very rare flops, although the term is largely relative, chiefly because in order to win the award a player must have already had at least two very good campaigns. Before we get to that, though, you might be asking the question: what is the Golden Boy?

What is the Golden Boy Football Prize?

tuttosport logoTuttosport, founded in 1945, is an Italian sports newspaper and in 2003 they established the Golden Boy award. In simple terms, the prize seeks to identify the best young player in Europe. More specifically, it names the best player under the age of 21, playing in top-tier football in Europe, based on their performances during a calendar year.

Because the award period is defined in this way, it covers a player’s performance during two separate seasons, or at least halves of seasons. A player cannot win the Golden Boy more than once and so a new name is added to the illustrious list every year. Whilst Tuttosport created the award, it is now voted for by a number of major European media outlets. These include the UK’s Times, Bild in Germany, Marca in Spain, both l’Equipe and France Football in France, and a number of other publications.

Best Golden Boy Winners

Lionel Messi

The Golden Boy award has been around for a mere two decades but its roll of honour is formidable and reads like a who’s who of modern European football – though there are four non-Europeans on the list too. That said, there is one striking absence from the list, with Cristiano Ronaldo unquestionably the best player never to have won Golden Boy.

Ronaldo was clearly an exceptional talent from a very young age but he didn’t really prove it on the pitch until he was slightly older. He appeared for Portugal at the age of 18 in 2003, shortly after completing a big-money move to Man United for the start of the 2003/04 season. His first realistic chance of landing the prize was, therefore, 2004, with 2005 his only other eligible award year and unfortunately for CR7, competition was rather fierce!

2005 – Lionel Messi

There can be no doubt who the greatest ever winner of Golden Boy is, with Lionel Messi considered by many to be the best footballer of all time. In the modern era he has only Ronaldo as a rival and so in Golden Boy terms he stands alone. Seven Ballon d’Ors, 10 La Ligas, four Champions League titles, the Copa America and, of course, the 2022 World Cup shows he’s had quite a career!

2004 – Wayne Rooney

Rooney beat Ronaldo to the prize in 2004 (Ronnie was second in the vote) on the back of his campaign with Everton and his incredible performances at Euro 2004. He didn’t go on to have quite the career some might have dreamed of at that early stage. However, it is hard to say that anyone who is Man United’s record goalscorer and was the leading scorer for England for a time underachieved.

2017 – Kylian Mbappe

From the stars of the past to the greats of the here and now, we turn to Mbappe. Somehow the flying French ace has almost 250 career goals aged just 24. Oh, and a World Cup winner’s medal. And six French league titles. On top of that he has already played – and scored – in two World Cup finals and is the most expensive teenager in the game, having been signed by PSG for around €180m (including add-ons).

2020 – Erling Haaland

Haaland has emerged alongside Mbappe as one of the greatest players in the world and neutrals can only hope that their rivalry to be dubbed the best is anything like as exciting as that between Messi and Ronaldo. Haaland is a monster, a machine, a menacing, marauding Viking who will surely break countless scoring records in his career. Aged just 22 he has 24 goals in 25 games for Norway and has smashed the Premier League record for most goals in a season.

2007 – Sergio Aguero

Despite suffering many injuries, the explosive Argentine banged in 260 goals for Man City, won five league titles with the club and sits fourth on the list of all-time Premier League scorers. He won the Under-20 World Cup twice, as well as the 2021 Copa America, sadly missing out on the 2022 World Cup. He finished his career with 41 international strikes from 101 games.

Future Stars

Players such as Pedri and Gavi may well go on to be superstars in the years ahead. The latter was born in 2004 and the Barcelona duo could well become as pivotal for Spain and Barca as Xavi and Iniesta were. It remains to be seen who will win the award in 2023 but all of the contenders have already proved themselves to be incredible footballers and the future certainly looks bright.

Complete List of Golden Boy Winners

Year Player Nationality
2003 Rafael van der Vaart Dutch
2004 Wayne Rooney English
2005 Lionel Messi Argentine
2006 Cesc Fabregas Spanish
2007 Sergio Aguero Argentine
2008 Anderson Brazilian
2009 Alexandre Pato Brazilian
2010 Mario Balotelli Italian
2011 Mario Gotze German
2012 Isco Spain
2013 Paul Pogba French
2014 Raheem Sterling English
2015 Anthony Martial French
2016 Renato Sanches Portuguese
2017 Kylian Mbappe French
2018 Matthijs de Ligt Dutch
2019 Joao Felix Portuguese
2020 Erling Haaland Norwegian
2021 Pedri Spanish
2022 Gavi Spanish

Golden Flops?

It is harsh and perhaps unfair to say that any of these players have flopped or failed. Some, for example Joao Felix, are too early into their careers and too young to be judged. However, Anderson has certainly not delivered on his early promise, time seems to be running out for Anthony Martial, Pato did not exactly set the world alight and, dare we say it, Paul Pogba’s career appears to be drifting. That said, we’d probably take Pogba’s 2018 World Cup win if offered it!