The FIFA U-17 World Cup, which was formerly the FIFA U-16 World Cup, began in 1985, with the first tournament being hosted by China, won by Nigeria, and the Golden Ball award being awarded to William, a Brazilian midfielder who went on to play for the likes of Fluminense and America de Cali.
The competition has grown in prestige over the years, but 16 and 17 year olds are obviously so young that we thought it’d be interesting to see how the most impressive players at the biggest international tournament in that age group have gone on to develop.
Here are the last 7 U17 World Cup Golden Ball Winners: Where are they now?
7. Phil Foden - Manchester City
Named as the best player at the 2017 FIFA U17 World Cup as England won the tournament at that age group for the first time, that set tongues wagging about young Stockport-born attacking midfielder Phil Foden. A technically gifted footballer capable of beating players and picking a pass, Foden is a rare talent among English players, and that’s why there’s such excitement about his future. Now a member of England’s U21 side, Foden is still only 18, but he has already registered 16 appearances in Pep Guardiola’s first team.
6. Kelechi Nwakali - Porto B
Kelechi Nwakali of FC Porto B in action during the Portuguese Segunda Liga match between GD Estoril Praia and FC Porto B at Estadio Antonio Coimbra da Mota on August 11, 2018 in Estoril,...
Nigeria are the most successful side in U17 World Cup history, so it should come as no surprise that they have a presence in this seven. The Golden Eaglets won their fifth title in Chile in 2015, beating fellow Africans Mali in the final. Kelechi Nwakali of the Diamond Football Academy won the Golden Ball for his superlative midfield performances, and he was signed by Arsenal the following year. An attacking midfielder with good technique and a bit of a set piece specialist, Nwakali is currently on-loan with Porto’s B team, and he has scored 1 goal from 1 cap for Nigeria’s senior side.
5. Kelechi Iheanacho - Leicester City
Staying with the Super Eagles in fifth place, Nigeria were world champions once again in 2013, and it was another of their starlets who took the Golden Ball. That man, or boy we should say, was Kelechi Iheanacho. Now known as a bit of a Johnny-on-the-spot poacher of a forward, it was his all-round game which impressed in the UAE, as Iheanacho recorded 6 goals and 7 assists.
The young forward joined Manchester City in 2015, where he impressed with 21 goals in 64 games, mostly off the bench, before Gabriel Jesus’ arrival signalled the end. A £25 million move to Leicester City followed, where Iheanacho has been a little disappointing, but the now full international is still only 22.
4. Julio Gomez Gonzalez - Cruz Azul Hidalgo
Keisuke Honda of Pachuca fights for the ball with Julio Gomez of Zacatepec during the round of sixteen match between Pachuca and Zacatepec as part of the Copa MX Apertura 2017 at Hidalgo...
Mexico won the FIFA U17 World Cup for the second time on home soil in 2011, and it was their star man Julio Gomez Gonzalez who took the Golden Ball. A dangerous right winger who was quick and good on the ball, Gomez had recently broken into the first team of Pachuca in Liga MX. Since then, the now 24-year-old has failed to progress as hoped, having amassed a total of only 9 appearances for the club. Uncapped by Mexico’s senior team, Gomez is currently on-loan for the seventh time in his short career with Cruz Azul Hidalgo in the third tier of Mexican football.
3. Sani Emmanuel - Free Agent
You didn’t think we were done with Nigeria, did you? The Super Eaglets may not have won the U17 World Cup in 2009, finishing as losing finalists to Switzerland, but Sani Emmanuel still took the Golden Ball. Without doubt the most obscure and least successful player in this seven, Emmanuel joined Lazio in 2010, but never played for the clubs first team. After two loan moves and two full transfers, the Nigerian fell off the map, and now aged 25, he hasn’t had a club since 2015.
2. Toni Kroos - Real Madrid
Toni Kroos of Real Madrid celebrates the victory after the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Real Madrid and Viktoria Plzen at Bernabeu on October 23, 2018 in Madrid, Spain.
There’s a fairly pronounced gulf between the fates of the player in third and that of the one in second. Germany only reached the semi-final of the 2007 FIFA U17 World Cup, losing inevitably to eventual winners Nigeria of course, but their classy midfield operator Toni Kroos was still named as the tournaments best player. A technical and intelligent midfield playmaker who rarely had to break a sweat, not much has changed for Kroos, he has just won 20 trophies including the World Cup and 4 Champions League’s since then.
1. Anderson - Adana Demirspor
You may have heard tales about former Manchester United midfielder Anderson suffering a rather sudden fall from grace, and I regret to inform you that they are true. The Brazilian was named as the best player at the 2005 U17 World Cup as Brazil reached the final, and he transferred to Porto the following year. Sir Alex Ferguson brought him to Old Trafford in 2007, where Anderson brought energy and dynamism to an already talented United midfield.
He registered 38 appearances in each of his first two seasons, before injuries, fitness concerns and poor form began to bite. His game time decreased year on year until he was released, joining Internacional of Brazil on a free transfer. A relegation and another release followed, and the 30-year-old with 8 senior Brazil caps to his name recently joined Adana Demirspor of the Turkish second tier.
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