Here are the first 7 Golden Boy award winners: Where are they now?
7. Alexandre Pato - Tianjin Quanjian
First up in this seven, Alexandre Pato won the Golden Boy award back in 2009. When Pato burst onto the scene, he seemed like the latest in a long line of world class Brazilian strikers. Pato had searing pace, brilliant technique and a sharp eye for goal. Having made his name at Internacional as an 18-year-old, Pato scored 9 goals in 20 games in his first season at AC Milan. He followed that up with 18 goals in 42 games the following season, which included a brace away at Real Madrid, and that was enough to see him beat fellow Serie A forward Stevan Jovetic to the Golden Boy award.
In what has been a real shame, not only to Pato, but to the game of football, from 2011 onwards, he had a dreadful injury record. He returned to Brazil in 2013, before making a brief return to the European game with Villareal and Chelsea. Villareal turned a big profit on him when they sold him to Tianjin Quanjian, and Pato has since scored 22 goals in 33 games for the Chinese Super League outfit.
6. Anderson - Free Agent
Anderson (R) of ACF Fiorentina fights for the ball with Cristiano Del Grosso of Atalanta BC during the Serie A match between ACF Fiorentina and Atalanta BC at Stadio Artemio Franchi on...
Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Sergio Busquets were just some of the players who made the top 20 of Golden Boy voting in 2008, but all lost out to Manchester United midfielder Anderson. That may seem bonkers now, but it wasn’t at the time. Manchester United fans used to sing of how Anderson was a better player than Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas, but as the years passed, such claims became increasingly laughable. The 2007-08 season was Anderson’s first at Old Trafford, and he was indeed very impressive, bringing energy and dynamism to the Manchester United midfield. In his last half-decade at the club however, there wasn’t much love for the Brazilian, who often appeared disinterested and out of shape. He left on a free in 2015, but has been out of contract since getting relegated from Brazil’s top flight with Cortiba, whilst on-loan from Internacional.
5. Sergio Aguero - Manchester City
From a man who grew to be disliked by many in the red half of Manchester, to one who has become incredibly loved by the blue side. Sergio Aguero recently featured in our look at the last 7 U20 World Cup Golden Ball winners, having picked up that accolade at the 2007 tournament finals in Canada, and he won the Golden Boy award that same year. Aguero had just had his debut season at Atletico Madrid, and he would go on to have four more brilliant and prolific seasons in the Spanish capital. He joined free-spending Manchester City in 2011, and in the seven years since, he has become City's all time leading scorer. Still at Manchester City, Aguero has bagged 30 goals in 39 games this season.
4. Cesc Fabregas - Chelsea
Cesc Fabregas of Chelsea reacts during the Premier League match between Chelsea and West Ham United at Stamford Bridge on April 8, 2018 in London, England.
Cesc Fabregas has actually had a slightly unusual career. Having emerged at Arsenal as one of the best young players in the world - so good that Arsene Wenger sold Patrick Vieira in fact - Fabregas made an inevitable move to Barcelona in 2011. He won six trophies at the Camp Nou, and his career total currently stands at 14, which includes a World Cup and a couple of European Championships. A creative force, only Ryan Giggs has more assists in the Premier League era. Clearly, Fabregas is a world class footballer, and yet at the age of 30, when he should arguably be in his prime, he is almost undoubtedly having the least impressive season of his career. The Spaniard joined Chelsea in 2014, and after a couple of excellent seasons, he - along with a number of Chelsea players - hasn’t had a particularly enjoyable campaign.
3. Lionel Messi - Barcelona
The first player in this seven, and actually the only player in this seven, who is still with the club they won the Golden Boy award with, is Lionel Messi. 2005 was really Messi’s breakout year, as he won the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball at the FIFA World Youth Championships, rounding the year off with a couple of goals in the Champions League - and being named Argentine Footballer of the Year and Golden Boy award winner, all aged 18! He has gone on to scored 547 goals in 633 games for Barcelona, winning countless trophies and five Ballon d’Ors. Messi has broken more records than we can care to mention, but he is La Liga’s all time leading scorer and assist maker, and he tops both charts once again this season.
2. Wayne Rooney - Everton
Wayne Rooney of Everton reacts during the Premier League match between Everton and Newcastle United at Goodison Park on April 23, 2018 in Liverpool, England.
What a talent Wayne Rooney was when he first broke through as a teenager. He burst onto the scene at Everton, making his debut aged 16, and at 17 he had become the youngest England international of all time. It’s difficult to overstate just how good Rooney looked at that time. He was so sharp, so explosive and so devastating in front of goal. Every time he got the ball you held your breath. It seems bizarre to say this about someone who has gone on to become Manchester United and England’s all time leading scorer, but we’ve always felt that if Rooney had the same commitment and obsession with self-improvement as Messi or Ronaldo, he could have been in the same bracket as those two.
Rooney won the Golden Boy award in 2004, the same year that he stared at the European Championships and made a big money move to Manchester United. He has had a tremendous career, and now aged 32, he rejoined Everton last summer.
1. Rafael van der Vaart - FC Midtjylland
A thoroughly deserved winner of the very first Golden Boy award, was Dutch playmaker Rafael van der Vaart. A special talent, van der Vaart had made his Ajax debut in the 1999-2000 season as a 17-year-old. When he won the award in December 2003, he was just coming off the back of season in which he had scored 22 goals in 30 games, establishing himself as a regular starter in a strong Dutch national team. In fact, the fiercest rival for his title was not Cristiano Ronaldo, but his club and international teammate Wesley Sneijder - two years his junior but already a regular first team player.
Van der Vaart ultimately left Ajax for Hamburg, and later Real Madrid. A hugely entertaining player with marvelous technique, van der Vaart has tended to be a fan favourite, a nowhere more so than at Tottenham Hotspur. He surprised a lot of people when he joined FC Midtjylland in 2016, a move largely motivated by the fact his girlfriend in a professional handball player in Denmark. It hasn’t been a happy move for the 35-year-old though, who went six months without making a single appearance, criticising both Danish football and Midtjylland. He returned to the first team for the first time in February, but hasn’t played since March 1st.
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