3 Golden Boy winners who failed to live up to expectations
As we enter the month of December, it is safe to say that the international footballing awards season is well and truly underway. With the Ballon d'Or winner set to be announced in less than a week, the annual awards kicked off with Portuguese youngster Joao Felix being announced as the Golden Boy winner earlier this week. The trophy is given out to the best player under the age of 21, playing in a top European league and Felix won it based on his performances for Benfica and later, Atletico Madrid after his €126 million move from the Liga NOS giants.
Felix has followed in the footsteps of some legends of the game. The award, established in 2003, was first won by Dutch legend Rafael van der Vaart and has since been picked up by players who have gone on to have stellar careers, such as Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Sergio Aguero and Cesc Fabregas, among other current stars of the likes of Raheem Sterling, Isco, Anthony Martial and Kylian Mbappe.
But what about the ones who didn't make it at the top level? The ones who were tipped for greatness but never quite cut it at the highest level of the game? Here are 3 players who won the prestigious award but failed to live up to the high expectations.
First on our list is Mario Balotelli. The winner of the award in 2010, Balotelli is the only Italian player to be recognised for his exploits at such a young age. In the nine years since winning the Golden Boy award, Balotelli has had 6 separate spells at 5 different clubs and in his 14-year long career has never managed to stay at a club for more than 3 seasons.
Having played for the likes of Inter Milan, AC Milan, Manchester City and Liverpool, Balotelli has had his moments, such as assisting Sergio Aguero for the famous Premier League title-winning goal in 2012 and had a productive spell at OGC Nice in 2017/18, scoring 26 goals in all competitions. However, he never quite hit the heights many expected of him.
With multiple managers complaining about his work ethic on the field and his attitude and conduct off it, many feel that has been a contributing factor to him not fulfilling his potential. Balotelli is currently playing for his hometown club, newly promoted Brescia, in Serie A.
The first of two Brazilians on our list, Alexandre Pato won the Golden Boy award a year before Balotelli, at the age of 20 in 2009. Despite his underachievement at club level, Pato has had a decent international career, scoring 10 goals in 27 games for his country.
In 2006, Pato broke Pele's record as the youngest player to score in a FIFA organized competition, when he scored in the Club World Cup for Internacional against then-African Champions League winners Al Ahly at the age of 17 years and 102 days. Pato enjoyed the best days of his career at AC Milan between 2007 and 2010, so it may be fair to say he peaked far too early, as his performances have dipped sharply since.
He returned to Brazil with Corinthians in 2013, before moving to Chelsea and Villareal in later years, never impressing at any of the clubs he played for in Europe. In January 2017, he was signed by Chinese side Tianjin Quanjian where he scored 36 goals in 60 games for the club. Earlier this year, he made the move back to Brazil and currently turns out for Sao Paulo.
Perhaps the most disappointing story of the three on this list, Anderson's rise and swift decline since receiving the Golden Boy award in 2008 is a rollercoaster of almost Freddy Adu-ian proportions.
Starting his career with Brazilian giants Gremio, Anderson impressed in the early part of his footballing journey, leading to a move to Europe with Portuguese side Porto in 2006, 3 months before his 18th birthday. After just one season in Portugal, Manchester United splashed the cash to bring him to Old Trafford for a fee reported to be nearly €30 million. He showed promise in his first few months in England and was fairly consistent for about 3 seasons, if not spectacular.
However, injuries and poor form took their toll later on, as he fell out of favour with Sir Alex Ferguson's successor David Moyes in 2014 and was shipped out on loan to Fiorentina halfway through the 2013/14 season. In 2015, he moved back to Brazil, representing Internacional and later Coritiba before retiring earlier this year following a spell with Adana Demirspor in Turkey, at the age of just 31.