Liverpool youngster Raheem Sterling is Europe’s latest recipient of the “Golden Boy” award. The award has been given since 2003 to the continent’s finest player under 21-years-old.
Sterling inserted himself as a regular presence in both the Liverpool squad and the England team, earning a spot on the team that manager Roy Hodgson took to Brazil in 2014. Last season, his attacking antics helped his Merseyside club exceed expectations and finish second in the Premier League, while qualifying for the Champions League in the process.
Some past winners include Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney and Sterling’s Liverpool teammate Mario Balotelli. Going on that statement alone, it would seem the winger is in good company. Here is a look at the past winners and where they are now.
2003: Rafael van der Vaart
Dutch playmaker Rafael van der Vaart emerged from the Ajax youth system and played for the Amsterdam-based club for five years. After his stint in the Eredivisie, he enjoyed spells with the likes of Hamburg, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur.
A veteran of three European Championships and two World Cups (including the magical run made by the Dutch in 2010), van der Vaart missed out on the 2014 finals. Despite that, he amassed 109 caps for his country, scoring 25 goals in the process.
He is currently in his second tour of duty with Hamburg and captains the Bundesliga club. Though they sit 14th in the Bundesliga, Hamburg are ahead of traditional powers Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen. The midfielder netted four goals in 13 appearances over all competitions for Hamburg.
2004: Wayne Rooney
England’s lone world-class performer (though that could change if Sterling continues to develop), Rooney is one of the game’s premier attacking talents.
While recent additions to Manchester United have forced Rooney to move to numerous positions across the pitch, the Englishmen’s level of play hasn’t suffered. Rooney scored eight goals and contributed four assists. His average WhoScored rating is a superb 7.51.
With Rooney as their captain, Manchester United currently sits third in the Premier League. The forward has 101 caps and 46 goals representing England. He holds the rare distinction of captaining both club and country.
2005: Lionel Messi
Arguably the world’s best player, Leo Messi puts up absurdly outstanding stats. In 22 games this season he has 23 goals across all competitions. He dished out nine assists over that span and turned in an average rating of 8.73.
His average rating in the Champions League this term is 9.08.
If you haven’t received the memo, Messi plays like a man amongst schoolboys.
Cristiano Ronaldo is the only player who can be mentioned in the same breath as Messi, which speaks to the Barcelona striker’s quality, as players like Eden Hazard, Arjen Robben and Manuel Neuer don’t even qualify for inclusion.
2006: Cesc Fabregas
Messi’s former Barcelona running mate Cesc Fabregas has gone on to accomplish amazing feats in his return to the Premier League.
Fabregas left Arsenal (the club he won the Golden Boy award with) to sign with Barcelona. He’s since vacated the Catalan giants for pastures new. Those pastures being Premier League front-runners Chelsea.
The Spanish playmaker is thriving in his return to London.
Fabregas posted an average rating of 7.92. Teammate Eden Hazard is the only player with a higher number in the entire league.
Additionally, Fabregas has handed out 13 assists while chipping in with two goals. His dozen helpers are five higher than the next best player.
The midfielder also posted an 87.3 pass success percentage, higher than the likes of compatriot David Silva and Swansea playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Fabregas’ play, along with fellow new arrival Diego Costa, has helped propel Chelsea to the top of the Premier League table, three points clear of Manchester City.
2007: Sergio Aguero
Yet another player with connections to Messi, Aguero outlasted the competition at striker for Manchester City. Aguero stayed, while the likes of Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez were sold to Italian clubs. The forward also receives regular playing time over Edin Dzeko, who has thrived in a bench role.
Going on WhoScored ratings alone, Aguero is Manchester City’s best player this season– which is quite an accomplishment considering he wears the same shirt as Yaya Toure, Silva and Vincent Kompany.
Aguero scored an impressive 19 goals in only 21 appearances across all competitions. He also added four assists while registering 3.6 shots per game.
It’s safe to say that Anderson isn’t in Manchester United’s plans. The midfielder registered only 20 minutes in the Premier League this season.
The Brazilian has been leaped in the midfield pecking order by new arrivals Angel Di Maria, Ander Herrera and Daley Blind. Incumbents Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick, Ashley Young, Adnan Januzaj and Darren Fletcher have also received significantly more playing time in the middle of the park.
The midfielder is rumored to be in talks to return to his native Brazil, and if a return comes to fruition, it wouldn’t be surprising considering the obvious lack of playing time at United. Anderson hasn’t exactly lived up to his high expectations in England. At only 26-years-old, a return to Brazil might just be what Anderson needs to turn things around and realize his once superb potential.
2009: Alexandre Pato
One of the many high-profile players to exit A.C. Milan over the past few seasons, Pato now plies his trade in his native Brazil in the Brazilian Serie A.
Despite moving from an elite Milan team to Brazil, Pato still received caps at the international level—even though other Brazilians were earning paychecks across Europe. His last international goal came in 2013 when he netted during a September 2013 win over Australia.
However, Pato missed out on Luiz Felipe Scolari’s World Cup roster. Brazil failed to win it all on home soil, partly due to a lack of goals from their strikers.
Pato left Milan around the same time that also saw the Rossoneri lose Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Antonio Cassano among others.
The forward currently plays for Sao Paulo and previously suited up for Corinthians after leaving Milan.
2010: Mario Balotelli
If you look up “mercurial” in the dictionary, you may see the smiling face of Mario Balotelli. The Italian striker won the award while playing for Manchester City, and recently returned to England with Liverpool after a spell with Pato’s old squad, A.C. Milan.
Balotelli has struggled to find the net during his time in Brendan Rodgers’ squad. The forward has just two goals in fifteen appearances over all competitions. Neither of those goals have come in the Premier League, with one in the Champions League and one in the League Cup.
Liverpool probably wasn’t looking for a player who has only scored against Swansea City and Bulgarian side Ludogorets.
Obviously, the Italian hasn’t put it all together for his Merseyside employers, but he’ll have to start scoring goals soon with transfer rumors linking him with a move away from Liverpool.
2011: Mario Götze
Mario Götze joins Mario Balotelli as the second consecutive Mario to win the award. This may be the only occurrence of this for some time.
While Balotelli has struggled this season, Götze is enjoying another strong season with German heavyweights Bayern Munich.
The attacker scored 11 goals and recorded two assists in 23 appearances across all competitions.
A versatile attacking option who appeared as a right midfielder and a center forward this season, Götze previously won the award with Bayern’s archrival, Borussia Dortmund.
Under Pep Guardiola, the Bavarians sit atop the Bundesliga with 45 points and are nine clear of Wolfsburg at the present.
Like a number of players on this list, Isco is no longer with the club he won the award. The midfielder won the honor with Spanish club Malaga and helped lead the team to an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals.
Soon after, the Spaniard earned a big-money move to Real Madrid.
The midfielder still plays for the Madrid-based club, but hasn’t been able to lock down a consistent starting role during his time with Los Blancos thanks to the likes of Sami Khedira, Luka Modric, Xabi Alonso and Toni Kroos.
Isco has scored three goals and added five assists in 22 appearances over all competitions.
2013: Paul Pogba
One of many Juve players to be signed via a free transfer (see also, among others, Andrea Pirlo and Fernando Llorente), Paul Pogba has the potential to be one of the world’s best.
While most names on this list have world-class potential, for one reason or another, some have not put it all together.
Paul Pogba is putting it all together.
After a tremendous season last year that propelled Pogba into the Didier Deschamps’ France squad, Pogba didn’t disappoint in Brazil—making five appearances, scoring a goal and winning the award for best young player of the tournament.
The Juventus midfielder has continued his high level of play in Turin as well, posting a rating of 7.49 in 19 appearances. Over that span he added four goals and two assists while establishing himself as an integral part of a midfield group that also includes Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio.
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