Tuttosport’s annual Golden Boy Award for players under the age of 20 has become one of the most prestigious in Europe.
Modern football may have accomplished a lot of annoying things, but a significant price for what is really a barometer for the best wonderkid on Football Manager has been very welcome.
With 19 winners of the prize already in the history books, we rank the players based on how good they turned out to be.
Andersen was hampered by injuries / GLYN KIRK / GettyImages
Oh, Andersson. Better than Kleberson, Manchester United’s midfielder suffered from injuries and fitness problems galore.
The fat Brazilian gave a fantastic mix of style and typical United efficiency when he first came to Old Trafford, but it never went together for him, he rarely started more than two games in a row or even reached 20 games in a Premier League season .
So serious were his injury problems that Anderson retired in September 2019, just 31 years old.
Sanches impressed at the European Championships 2016 / Matthias Hangst / GettyImages
To rebuild his career gallantly in Lille, the only way is up for Renato Sanches.
Strongly linked to a move to Barcelona and Liverpool in the summer of 2021, he sees a million miles away from the player who went over to an advertising hoarding during a loan period with Swansea City.
Joao Felix cost Atletico Madrid a fine penny / Anadolu Agency / GettyImages
Joao Felix had the world at his feet after winning the Golden Boy 2019 award.
But since his big money move to Atletico Madrid, he has not really gotten started as everyone had hoped. However, he is still a winner in La Liga, and there have been signs of what a difference he may make in the future.
Pato was once tipped to be the best striker on the planet / Dino Panato / GettyImages
Another story about what could have been if not for injuries, Alexandre Pato showed at least long periods of his brilliance as opposed to Anderson’s cameos.
63 goals in 150 games for Milan showed that Pato was at least a good striker during his heyday, when he won his last Scudetto in 2011, but he never really reached the heights he expected.
Still, his short loan spell at Chelsea will be of great benefit to future pub quizzes.
At least he started well / Shaun Botterill / GettyImages
Okay, Manchester United fans, we hear you’re angry, but at least hear from us – has Anthony Martial actually improved that much since he scored against Liverpool in his debut? Is the highlight of his career an emotional statement by Martin Tyler way back in September 2015?
Martial is short on time to prove his critics wrong. He turns 26 in December 2021.
A complex character / Alex Livesey / GettyImages
Mario Balotelli’s legacy will almost certainly outweigh what he actually achieved in a career defined by moments of achievement.
That semi-final of the European Championship 2012 against Germany, “Why Allways Me?”, His only Manchester City assistant who won the league for them, wearing a Milan jersey on TV while he was an Inter player, and dropping fireworks in his own bathroom.
Yep, Balotelli is really a character and would be higher up on this list if he had more moments to remember on the pitch.
Pedri played around 2000 matches in 2021 / David Ramos / GettyImages
Most young players need time to settle down during their first season in the big season. Inte Pedri.
The energetic midfielder only missed a La Liga match for Barcelona during the 2020/21 campaign and also helped Spain to be close to winning the European Championships 2020 and the Olympics during an incredibly hectic summer.
What a miracle, and he’s just getting started.
De Ligt captain Ajax to the semifinals of the Champions League / Nicolò Campo / GettyImages
While still in his 20s, Matthijs de Ligt has shown the world that he is capable of being the complete modern defender.
A shaky start to life at Juventus has allowed prejudice to creep in and make people doubt the Dutchman, but every player his age will have shortcomings, and he is still well on his way to a top career for club and country.
Van der Vaart was the first Golden Boy winner / AFP / GettyImages
A fantastic, glittering career, but one that should have been on a par with some of his peers of his generation.
Van der Vaart grew up in the same Dutch generation as Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie, but he will probably be remembered much less than all three. His game at Tottenham was memorable, but not one that motivated a higher place on this list.
Isco’s career has blown out in recent years / David Ramos / GettyImages
One would think that a four-time winner of the Champions League would be higher up on this list, but the brilliant Isco has failed to truly fulfill his potential at Real Madrid.
Sure, he’s easy on the eye and is the 2010s archetypal Spanish midfielder, but Isco has never established himself as one of the big dogs at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Gotze moved to PSV 2020 / PATRIK STOLLARZ / GettyImages
Honestly, all that separates Isco and Mario Gotze on this list is the fact that the latter took the winner in a World Cup final.
The idea that the world’s greatest young talent would move to Bayern and play during Pep Guardiola in 2013 was full of promises, but was never a fruitful situation in reality.
Gotze fought for playing time at the Allianz Arena and returned to Borussia Dortmund in 2016, but has since struggled with various health and fitness problems.
Haaland shows no mercy in front of goal / Lars Baron / GettyImages
The only thing that prevents Erling Haaland from ending up higher on this list is that his career is still so young.
Haaland seems to have been created in a laboratory of body parts by various iconic attackers and has already broken a number of goal records. What he continues to achieve in the coming decade is someone’s guess.
Pogba was incredible for Juventus / Maurizio Lagana / GettyImages
For all the titles, including his own World Cup, which Paul Pogba has won in his career, it still feels like a situation of unfulfilled potential.
In his day, the Frenchman is the complete midfielder, but that day occurs once in a blue moon at the moment, and has been for a while.
A player with Pogba’s ability should not need others to constantly hold his hand, but is still well worth a place this high on the list.
Sterling has scored goals for several years / Michael Regan / GettyImages
You could argue that Raheem Sterling, despite all the doubts and unnecessary abuse he has suffered in recent years, is the best English player of his generation.
A key figure in one of English football’s most dominant teams in history, Sterling has evolved from a tricky outside to a constant goal threat, tackling off-field problems on the road to global star status.
Yes, he is fast / Power Sport Images / GettyImages
With the exception of some serious injuries, it is difficult to imagine a future where Kylian Mbappe will not eventually win the Ballon d’Or.
With a fantastic World Cup victory and some Ligue 1 titles already under his belt, Mbappe’s legacy is already much bigger than many icons throughout football history.
Which player Fabregas was / Shaun Botterill / GettyImages
It’s rare for a player’s peak year to come at the beginning of his career, but Cesc Fabregas really ticks that box.
Somewhere between a No. 8 and a No. 10 for Arsenal, the Spaniard was a revolutionary midfielder in the late 2000s, who often bore the burden of the Gunners himself.
Fruitful periods in Barcelona and Chelsea followed, where he finally won the silver that his time at Arsenal deserved.
Aguero broke into the international scene at Atletico Madrid / PHILIPPE DESMAZES / GettyImages
Sergio Aguero was a constant threat with 20 goals per season for Manchester City, with his arrival coinciding with the change of power in the North West, but he broke through as a youngster at Atletico Madrid.
Extra points are awarded for having had one of football’s crucial moments, winning the Premier League title with that goal against QPR as early as 2012.
Rooney was electric in his youth / Laurence Griffiths / GettyImages
The best goal scorer in Manchester United’s history ends up among the top two with the skin on his teeth. Wayne Rooney, a career with silverware that only lacked a trophy with England, has almost been underestimated because of the expectations placed on him when he was a teenager.
His record as Man Utd’s and England’s leading goal scorer of all time speaks for itself.
Who else? / LLUIS GENE / GettyImages
Simply the best (better than everyone else), there are no possible arguments that would make Lionel Messi not finish as number 1 here.
We do not have to write a book, a chapter or even an excerpt to explain this decision – everything we can say is superfluous at this point. Enjoy the grandeur.
For more from Matt O’Connor-Simpson, follow him on Twitter!