Yes, No and Maybe: The fluctuating fortunes of football's Golden Boy winners

The award recipients have gone through three phases, although the second and third still provide hope

Anderson, Pato, Brazil

Brazil's soccer players Alexandre Pato, left, and Anderson attend training in Rio de Janeiro, Friday, June 13, 2008. Brazil will face Paraguay in an upcoming World Cup 2010 qualifying match in Asuncion, Paraguay. (AP Photo/Ricardo Moraes)

When Portugal midfielder Renato Sanches looks back at 2016, good memories will abound.

Not only did he play a part in his country's first ever major tournament triumph at Euro 2016 but he was also named Young Player of the Tournament.

Having won the Portuguese league with Benfica, the 19-year-old also made the big money switch to one of European football's powers in the shape of Bayern Munich.

But now as the year ends, another accolade has come his way as Sanches picks up the Golden Boy award.

It is a prize given to players aged under-21 who have been most impressive globally during a calendar year. 

Indeed, a previous recipient of the award is Lionel Messi who won it in 2005 just before his career with Barcelona and Argentina really took off.

Winning the Golden Boy award is no guarantee of future success, although if you look at every winner since its inception in 2003, the future seems to have played out in phases.

The golden early years 

The first five winners from 2003 to 2007 have had outstanding careers individually for the most part:

2003: Rafael van der Vaart

2004: Wayne Rooney

2005: Lionel Messi

2006: Cesc Fabregas

2007: Sergio Aguero

Rooney and Fabregas' powers might be waning now, having both started out in the hectic Premier League when they were barely out of their mid-teens, but they have won a whole host of trophies during their times at the top.

Overall, those five players can look back on successful careers. Van der Vaart played in the 2010 World Cup final for the Netherlands (he won 109 caps in total) and also lined out for the mighty Real Madrid - albeit in a slightly below-par post-Galacticos era.

Compared to the other members of the aforementioned quintet, Van der Vaart is the least impressive player as a whole. That may sound harsh, but it's hard to compete when you're in the company of Messi, Sergio Aguero et al.

The underwhelming middle years

And now come four players that have a few doubts around them:

2008: Anderson

2009: Alexandre Pato

2010: Mario Balotelli

2011: Mario Gotze

They might not be flops if you're being fair, but compared to their earlier promise, all four are off the radar to varying degrees.

Anderson is back in Brazil now with Internacional, after failing to glitter regularly at Manchester United during eight years at Old Trafford.

Most recently, he made headlines for punching a team-mate during a training session.

Pato's fall was not down to poor performances, more so constant hamstring injuries which derailed his career to an extent that you may have forgotten that he spent six months at Chelsea earlier this year.

The ex-Brazil and Milan striker is now at Villarreal, and has scored a couple of goals already. Let's not forget, he's only 27 so there is hope yet of a late career revival.

"Why always me?" Balotelli's T-shirt once asked aloud. The former Manchester City and Inter Milan striker has only occasionally made the headlines for the right reasons, like the time his goals single-handedly helped Italy knock Germany out of Euro 2012. Or his two goals in the 6-1 victory for Manchester City in the derby. Or his header that won Italy a World Cup match over England in 2014.

Yet like Pato, there is hope. As Andy Brassell wrote for, the Italian's switch to Nice is working wonders as he begins to display the ability that originally had people talking about him for the right reasons.

As for Gotze, whatever happens in the remainder of his career, the Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder will always be in the history books as the man who scored the winning goal for Germany in the 2014 World Cup final.

But his career as a whole has been underwhelming ever since he left Dortmund for rivals Bayern Munich in an acrimonious transfer in 2013. Pep Guardiola was never truly convinced by him, and now he finds himself back at square one with Dortmund, hoping to rebuild what was lost.

Overall, the 2008 to 2011 winners are in their mid-20s now, so theoretically should be at their respective peaks.

The uncertain latter years

The last four winners before Renato Sanches are still in the infancy of their careers.

2012: Isco

2013: Paul Pogba

2014: Raheem Sterling

2015: Anthony Martial  

It's fair to say that none of the four are having the best time of it (to varying degrees) at the moment. However, given that they are all aged between 20 and 24, it is far, far too early to judge their careers overall. 

They have all shown their vast potential already before 2016, which has proven tough for them as a whole. But there are as many reasons to believe that they could unlock some of their potential as fail to live up to the hype.

For Pogba, he is still finding his feet at Manchester United and requires the type of playmakers around him that he had at Juventus, Sterling has Pep Guardiola to try to develop him and iron out his deficiencies. 

Isco can perhaps thrive fully away from the dysfunctional pressure cooker that Real Madrid often is, and Martial's problem seems to be a question of form.

For many of the players, these are the natural consequences of being a young player, with all the ebbs and flows that entails. Sanches has had a good 2016, but he may also need to take note of just how varied the fortunes of past winners have been.