The award for the Golden Boy is upon us. This is the prize given to the best young star in Europe. Many of the candidates are already players of relatively high status, but it’s always interesting to try and depict who will jump from the Golden Boy list to the Balon d’Or one within a short amount of time. The acclaimed Italian newspaper Tuttosport established this prize in which journalists from other sports newspapers from several European nations vote.
The basic requirements for a player to be on the list of the 40 who are voted on are the athlete being under 21 and playing in a top tier European league.
So let’s break down the list and its characteristics, reducing the list to the top three candidates:
The first interesting thing about this year’s list is that there are no absolute standout players. The past few winners were already established athletes in major European clubs: Sterling who was one of the Liverpool stars, Pogba after a great year winning the Scudetto with Juventus, Isco right before his jump to Real, Gotze who was pivotal in Klopp’s Dortmund… Not to mention the early winners of the prize with astounding players such as Rooney or Messi. From my point of view, none of this year’s candidates have this stardom feel to them yet.
Secondly, this prize is yearly – just like the Balon d’Or – which means that instead of voting for someone that has been really good for a full season, the journalists are voting for someone who has been performing at a high level from January to December – the second half of the 14/15 season and the first half of the 15/16 one. I personally do not agree with this in any way, from my point of view, awards should be given at the end of a season – not in the middle of one. Either way, this rules out a large chunk of candidates who were performing at an exceptionally high level at the beginning of this season but not the past one and vice-versa. This chunk includes: Kingsley Coman who has been impressing for Guardiola’s Bayern but who didn’t do as well with Juventus last season, Delle Alli who established himself alongside Dier in Tottenham’s midfield this year after a great season in the English League 1 (a subpar league for a candidate to such an award) and Gonçalo Guedes who much like Alli has established himself as a starter for Benfica but played mainly in the second tier of Portuguese football in the past season with Benfica B. On a similar situation we can look at Halilovic who’s been showing his talent for Sporting Gijon after playing the entirety of past season with Barcelona’s B team and on an opposite one we have players such as Danilo, who’s hasn’t been getting as many chances for Valencia as he did playing for Braga.
And finally, an important thing to note about who is getting the prize is that out of the 12 Golden Boy awards that were given so far, 11 went to athletes from the top European leagues. There are several players on this list who have shown a lot of quality but due to them playing in leagues that considered “obscure” : in the Serbian, Kazakhstani or Croatian Leagues (Zivkovic, Maksimovic and Pjaca, respectively), the chance for them to actually win the Golden Boy is extremely limited.
Not only that but – just like the Balon d’Or – this award is mainly given to offensive players, both central or attacking midfielders and forwards. Defenders are rarely considered for these awards.
This year, there’s a slight chance that these facts might change since there are a couple of solid defensive candidates and there are a few real contenders who aren’t from top three or four leagues in Europe. These characteristics of the list are what will make the 2015 Golden Boy one of the most interesting ones so far. With all of that said, here are my personal top 3 candidates (in no particular order):
The French attacker is the most obvious choice for a lot of people when it comes to picking one out of the list, and there’s good reasoning for this too. Establishing himself as a crucial player for Monaco, Martial played a total of 48 games last season. Often starting from one of the wings, the forward scored a total of 12 goals in an impressive season with the Principality’s club. After an astonishing transfer to Manchester United, the Frenchman managed to deal with the pressure of his move to England and has been impressing for the Red Devils.
Ruben Neves:Just like I had mentioned previously, this might just be the first time that the winner of this award isn’t from an established top European League because Porto’s Ruben Neves is a serious contender. The youngest ever captain in a Champions League match had a really consistent first season with Porto’s senior side, and is starting this one just as well. I’ve seen analysts considering Ruben too young for the award since he’s only 18 but I’m a firm believer that, as long as you’re within the age ratio to be a contender, the deciding factor is just one: quality. Unusually smart for his age, Neves has the potential to win this award now and to keep breaking records throughout his career.
If defenders in general don’t get enough appreciation in this kind of award, wing backs tend to get even less but Arsenal’s Catalan right back, Héctor Bellerín, is something special. At age 20, the Spaniard is a regular starter for the Gunners having played 12 matches this season and 28 in the 14/15 one. The youngster has a lot of quality both defensively and going forward, and due to a combination of his quality and this year’s opposition, I believe he has an actual chance to win the Golden Boy.
There are a few players on the list that have a lot of potential and that had solid a solid year but who, from my point of view for a reason or another, don’t have as much of a chance at the title as these three previously mentioned. Players such as Romagnoli, Tielemans, El Ghazi or Meyer.
Tielemans for example, would be my number 4 on the list purely due to his quality but the fact that he plays in the not-so-advertised Belgian Pro-League hinders his chances, while as for a player like Romagnoli I don’t feel like he has been above average enough to get the award.
Whatever the award’s outcome is: we all know that the 40 candidates have the quality to make it in the big leagues in a short period of time.