Golden Boy in football is the award given to the best under-21 player who is plying his trade in Europe. The nominees of this prestigious individual award have to impress during a calendar year, which means two halves of two seasons. They must also be playing in Europe’s top-tier nations.

The Golden Boy award was introduced by the Italian newspaper Tuttosport in 2003. Rafael van der Vaart won the first-ever Golden Boy award after impressing with Dutch giants Ajax at the time. Barcelona midfielder Pedri is the latest recipient of the honour and he is the first Barcelona player to win the Golden Boy award since Lionel Messi won it in 2005.

How is the Golden Boy chosen?

The winner of this honour is announced by a jury consisting of sports journalists from Bild (Germany), Blick (Switzerland), A Bola (Portugal), L'Equipe and France Football (France), Marca and Mundo Deportivo (Spain), Ta Nea (Greece), Sport Express (Russia), De Telegraaf (Netherlands) and The Times (United Kingdom).

Each juror is asked to nominate five players and points are allocated as per the order. For example, 10 points are awarded for the player they put first on their list, 7 points for second, 5 for third, 3 for fourth and 1 point for the fifth player.

Note that a player can only win the Golden Boy award once to ensure other youngsters get a chance as well. So if a player wins the award as a teenager, as was the case with Kylian Mbappe, he can no longer be in the reckoning to win the award again the following year despite being under-21 and playing in Europe’s top leagues.  

Golden Boy winners list

Year Player Team
2003 Rafael van der Vaart Ajax
2004 Wayne Rooney Everton and Manchester United
2005 Lionel Messi Barcelona
2006 Cesc Fabregas Arsenal
2007 Sergio Aguero Atletico Madrid
2008 Anderson Manchester United
2009 Alexandre Pato Milan
2010 Mario Balotelli Inter and Manchester City
2011 Mario Gotze Borussia Dortmund
2012 Isco Malaga
2013 Paul Pogba Juventus
2014 Raheem Sterling Liverpool
2015 Anthony Martial Monaco and Manchester United
2016 Renato Sanches Benfica and Bayern Munich
2017 Kylian Mbappe Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain
2018 Matthijs de Ligt Ajax
2019 Joao Felix Benfica and Atletico Madrid
2020 Erling Haaland Borussia Dortmund
2021 Pedri Barcelona

Interestingly, five-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo never won the Golden Boy award. His team, Manchester United, however, are the club with the most winners, with Wayne Rooney (2004), Anderson (2008) and Anthony Martial (2015) winning the honour. 

Meanwhile, France has produced the most number of Golden Boy winners (3). Furthermore, since its inception, as many as 10 forwards have been bestowed the honour followed by eight midfielders and only one defender. 

In 2018, former Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt became the first and only defender till date to be named the Golden Boy.

Featured photo: AFP / Jorge Guerrero