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What is the Golden Boy Award?

Jude Bellingham scored a last-gasp equaliser for England against Belgium in a friendly game ahead of the 2024 European Championship to once again prove his worth to Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions. He has been a revelation since his move to Real Madrid, surpassing even the highest of possible expectations the club could have had about a player with such huge, obvious potential.

Bellingham has it all and we possibly don’t even know what his best position is yet. He may well be the best player in the world right now and he is a key part of England’s hopes when it comes to finally winning the Euros. And he is also the current holder of the Golden Boy prize. But what is the Golden Boy award and have any other English players won it? And how have past winners got on in their future careers?

Golden Boy Award Explained

Gold 3D Number 21The Italian sports paper Tuttosport created the Golden Boy prize over 20 years ago, the first prize being handed out in 2003. To keep things really simple, it aims to recognise the best male footballer, playing in Europe, aged under 21. A player can only win the prize once and it is based on performances over a calendar year, thus taking in two separate seasons.

Technically, to be eligible a footballer must be playing in the top tier of a European league but in reality this rule is moot because it is so unlikely that any contenders would be playing second division football anyway. Various media publications around Europe vote on the prize, with The Times the UK’s voting representative. Each “judge” gets five votes, allocating 10 points to their number one pick, seven for second, then down to five points, three points and last of all one point for the player they rank the fifth best.

The winner is announced at the end of each year, usually at the start of December. Here we can see Bellingham accepting his prize and giving a big hint about what other English player might have landed it in the past.

What English Players Have Won Golden Boy?

In Bellingham’s speech, he name-checked Wayne Rooney as his biggest influence and the former Everton and Man United star was the first English winner of the award. Rooney landed the prize in its second year, in 2004, for his performances first with Everton, then Manchester United, plus of course his sensational form for England at Euro 2004 when he was the tournament’s breakout star.

Other winners who played for English clubs followed, including Cesc Fabregas, who was honoured in 2006 when he was an Arsenal player. But the next English player to win the Golden Boy award was Raheem Sterling in 2014, who was a Liverpool player for both the seasons the award period considered.

There was then a substantial wait for a third English victor that only ended when Bellingham won the prize in 2023. The young Brummie was outstanding for both Borussia Dortmund and his national side but then really made sure of the prize with his red-hot start to life at the Bernabeu with Real Madrid.

Which Nation has won the Golden Boy Most?

So, as we have seen, English players have won the award just three times out of the 21 times it has been held (as of the 2023 prize). That is not a great return, although it does mean that players eligible for the Three Lions are second, with only Spanish players having claimed the honours more often.

Chart of the Golden Boy Winner's Nationality Between 2003 and 2023

As mentioned above, Fabregas won Golden Boy in 2006, with Isco claiming Spain’s second success in 2012. Barca’s young tyros Pedri (2021) and Gavi (2022) won it back to back, meaning that Spanish players have won Golden By four times, ahead of England and also France.

French players are tied with their English rivals on three wins thanks to Paul Pogba, who won in 2013, Anthony Martial (2015) and, of course, Kylian Mbappe, who claimed the prize in 2017. Players from four countries, Netherlands, Argentina, Brazil and Portugal, have won Golden Boy twice, with three further nations also represented, as we can see in the chart above.

All Golden Boy Winners, 2003 to 2023

Winner Year Nationality
Rafael van der Vaart 2003 Dutch
Wayne Rooney 2004 English
Lionel Messi 2005 Argentine
Cesc Fabregas 2006 Spanish
Sergio Aguero 2007 Argentine
Anderson 2008 Brazilian
Alexandre Pato 2009 Brazilian
Mario Balotelli 2010 Italian
Mario Gotze 2011 German
Isco 2012 Spanish
Paul Pogba 2013 French
Raheem Sterling 2014 English
Anthony Martial 2015 French
Renato Sanches 2016 Portuguese
Kylian Mbappe 2017 French
Matthijs de Ligt 2018 Dutch
Joao Felix 2019 Portuguese
Erling Haaland 2020 Norwegian
Pedri 2021 Spanish
Gavi 2022 Spanish
Jude Bellingham 2023 English

What, no Ronaldo?

Cristiano Ronaldo is undoubtedly the best player missing from this list and it is certainly surprising that he never won the Golden Boy. Along with the World Cup, it is just about all he has missed out on though and we suspect he’s learnt to live without it over the years, even though we also suspect it irks him a little that Lionel Messi has been honoured!

Whilst Ronaldo was clearly an incredible player from a young age, he blossomed fully a little later than some of his rivals. Man United signed him as a 17-year-old for more than £12m but he took a little time to settle. His form only really took off from around 2007 onwards when he was ineligible for the Golden Boy.

Have Golden Boy Winners Had Good Careers?

Anyone with a decent knowledge of football can see that the list of winners is really quite incredible. With the exception of CR7, it reads like a who’s who of European football over the past 20 years. With the odd exception, it features just about every footballer who has been mentioned in the conversation about who the best player in the world is.

Additionally, there are so many Champions League winners on that list, not to mention the almost countless domestic leagues and cups these players have won. There are also several World Cup and continental championship winners on the list too, including Messi, Fabregas, Anderson, Gotze, Pogba, Sanches and Kylian Mbappe. And hopefully Bellingham soon enough!

In fact, what is perhaps more remarkable is how few duds there are. Players such as Balotelli, Martial, Sanches and one or two others may not have quite fulfilled their potential, and there are question marks about Felix, but even these footballers have enjoyed careers the vast majority of players would be more than happy with and collected at least some silverware along the way.