The FIFA Under-20 World Cup is an international football tournament for players under the age of 20. The first tournament was held in Tunisia in 1977, but it was known as the FIFA World Youth Championship up until 2007.
The tournament is staged every two years, meaning this seven takes us back to 2005. The Golden Ball award is given to the tournaments best player, and has had winners varying from all time great Diego Maradona to Ismail Matar – who is virtually unknown outside of the UAE.
Here are the last 7 FIFA U-20 World Cup Golden Ball Winners: Where Are They Now?
7. Dominic Solanke – Liverpool
The most recent recipient of the U20 World Cup Golden Ball, Dominic Solanke was the second highest scorer at the tournament finals in South Korea. The 2017 edition of the tournament was England’s first time as World Champions at U20 level, with a squad featuring the likes of Lewis Cook and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Solanke has had a tremendous international career at youth level, and he was rewarded with his first cap for the senior side in November of last year. He joined Liverpool from Chelsea in the summer, and has made 23 appearances but failed to score for the Reds so far this season.
6. Adama Traore – Monaco
Not to be confused with the former Barcelona and current Middlesbrough wide man, there are two 22-year-old Adama Traore’s. The one we are referring to here, and the one who won the Golden Ball at the 2015 U20 World Cup, is now a full Mali international who plays his club football for Monaco. A technically gifted central midfielder, Traore scored four goals and made three assists as Mali finished third in 2015. He saw off the likes of Hirving Lozano and Gabriel Jesus to win the award, and made a £10 million move to Monaco the same summer. Traore has suffered some nasty ankle injuries since then, and he has played only 3 Ligue 1 games so far this season, scoring three goals.
5. Paul Pogba – Manchester United
A more familiar face in fifth place, I’d be rather surprised if any of our viewers didn’t know the fate that had befallen Paul Pogba since he won the Golden Ball in Turkey back in 2013. Having just had his first season at Juventus, in which he played 37 games in all competitions, Pogba took the U20 World Cup by storm. A French squad boasting the likes of Kurt Zouma, Samuel Umtiti and Geoffrey Kondogbia beat Uruguay in the final on penalties. Pogba took and dispatched the first kick, having captained and starred for France throughout the tournament. Pogba had three more excellent seasons with Juventus and was named as the Best Young Player at the 2014 World Cup, before making a world record breaking £89 million move to Manchester United. Still at Old Trafford, Pogba has at times struggled with Jose Mourinho’s system and the incredible weight of expectation – but he’s undoubtedly a class act.
4. Henrique Almeida – Giresunspor
Not all Golden Ball winners at the U20 World Cup go on to make lucrative moves to one of the biggest clubs in the world, and Henrique Almeida is a testament to that. Having won the Golden Ball at a tournament featuring the likes of James Rodriguez, Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho, his club career failed to really lift off. Playing for Sao Paulo at the time, he almost joined QPR in 2012, but ended up signing for Botafogo in 2013, where he failed to score in 14 outings for the Rio-based outfit. He has been contracted to Gremio since 2016, but is currently on-loan at Turkish second tier side Giresunspor, where he has 4 goals from 13 appearances.
3. Dominic Adiyiah – Nakhon Ratchasima
Somehow topping Almeida in the most disappointing post-U20 World Cup Golden Ball winning career, is 28-year-old Dominic Adiyiah. He scored eight goals in seven games as Ghana won the tournament for the first time, picking up both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball. He was playing his club football in Norway at the time, but his pace and intelligent movement prompted AC Milan to take a chance on him. In two and a half years at the San Siro, he never got on the pitch, signing for Arsenal Kyiv of Ukraine in 2012. From Ukraine to Kazakhstan a year later, Adiyiah was on the move once more in 2015, this time heading to Thailand. A few years on, and the centre-forward is still at Nakhon Ratchasima, who currently find themselves in the bottom half of the Thai League 1 table.
2. Sergio Aguero – Manchester City
From the obscure to the outstanding, the Golden Ball award went to Sergio Aguero at the 2007 finals in Canada. The quick and clinical little Argentine is among the best strikers in the world, and he finally earnt a first PFA Team of the Year inclusion this season, having scored 21 goals in 25 Premier league games. Aguero was the top scorer at the championships in 2007, scoring 6 goals as Argentina won a record sixth title. He was already highly regarded at the time, having joined Atletico Madrid from Independiente the previous summer, and he went on to fulfil his obvious potential.
Now aged 29, in seven years, he has become Manchester City’s all time record scorer, winning 8 trophies and racking up more than 80 caps for Argentina.
1. Lionel Messi – Barcelona
Upstaging Sergio Aguero is no easy task, but one man who does it quite comfortably is Lionel Messi. Just an absolute sensation, what Messi has achieved since winning the Golden Ball at the U20 World Cup finals in 2005 is arguably without peer in the history of the sport. He has scored 546 goals in 632 goals for Barcelona, has made the most assists of any player in history since records began – and is Argentina’s all time record scorer.
A five-time Ballon d’Or, four-time Champions League and eight-time La Liga champion, Messi will most likely go down as the greatest footballer ever. Having been named as the best player at the 2005 U20 World Cup, he was named as the best player at the 2014 senior World Cup, but his Argentina side were losing finalists to Germany in Rio.