Grading the past Golden Boys
In case you missed it, Matthijs de Ligt was recently announced as the winner of the 2018 Golden Boy award.
The Golden boy is an award that was created in 2003 and given out by journalists of Italian Newspaper outfit TuttoSport to young players who have been deemed to be the most impressive over the last year. The award is handed out yearly and the winner must be under the age of 21 and must play in a major European league.
The 19-year-old de Ligt has been making waves and grabbing headlines since he made his Ajax debut aged just 17 two years ago where he scored on his debut to become the club's second youngest scorer ever behind the legendary Clarence Seedorf. Only nine months later, he became the youngest player ever to start a European club final when he contested the Europa League trophy with Manchester United aged just 17 years and 285 days.
He is highly rated for his ability to read games and excellent tackling, while also being praised for his maturity despite his young age (he was named Ajax captain at the age of 18).
De Ligt was called up to the national team of Holland despite having played only two senior league matches up until that point and became the youngest starter for the Netherlands since 1931.
He has become a mainstay alongside Virgil van Dijk in the Dutch setup and indeed is so highly rated that it is only a matter of time before he leaves Ajax with most of the big clubs in Europe hovering over him, and when he does leave, you can be sure his transfer would most likely be more than the £75m Liverpool paid for the services of his compatriot.
De Ligt is the first defender to win the Golden Boy award and joins a list comprising of 15 other players (among whom are some of the greatest players in history) and if he continues with this trajectory, he would undoubtedly become the best defender in the world.
The winners list in full :
2003 Rafael Van der Vaart
2004 Wayne Rooney
2005 Lionel Messi
2006 Cesc Fabregas
2007 Sergio Aguero
2009 Bojan Krkic
2010 Maro Balotelli
2011 Mario Gotze
2012 Isco Alarcon
2013 Paul Pogba
2014 Raheem Sterling
2015 Anthony Martial
2016 Renato Sanches
2017 Kylian Mbappe
2018 Matthijs de Ligt
Since the awards were introduced in 2003, 16 players have won the award. With the globalisation of the game and pressure for instant success, we've seen lots of young players thrust into the limelight prematurely with words like wonderkid, prodigy etc being brandished, and while some players have gone on to fulfil their potential, others haven't. In this piece, we take a look at how past Golden Boy winners have fared upon receiving the award.
2003 - Rafael Van der Vaart
The former Dutch midfielder was the first ever recipient of the award for his spectacular displays as a youngster while at Ajax, drawing comparisons with the great Johan Cryuff.
He had spells with Hamburg and a less fulfilling one with Real Madrid where he made more headlines for his relationship with Dutch supermodel Sylvia Weils than for his limited performances on the field.
He moved on to Tottenham in 2010 and spent two seasons in London before returning to Hamburg in 2012 and spending the next three seasons in the Bundesliga and became something of a journeyman over the next three years before announcing his retirement early in 2018.
He did manage to win 109 caps for the Netherlands and starred in their shock run to the final at the 2010 World Cup.
Verdict - Decent but unspectacular career