Bayern Munich and Portugal international Renato Sanches was recently crowned the 2016 Golden Boy. We review the black talent that made the 40-man shortlist
The creation of Italian newspaper Tuttosport, the Golden Boy award has been around since 2003 and crowns Europe’s best player under the age of 21. Previous winners include Anderson (2008), Mario Balotelli (2010), Raheem Sterling (2014) and Anthony Martial (2015).
Dele Alli, Alex Iwobi, Marcus Rashford, Kingsley Coman and Leroy Sané were some of the names that made the 40-man shortlist for 2016. Each player had breakthrough seasons last term, in many cases for both club and country, and a healthy number are continuing their impressive form this season.
Dele Alli (Tottenham) | Two seasons ago Alli was playing in the third tier of English football for MK Dons. Fast forward to 2016, the midfield maestro is ever-present in Tottenham’s side and at just 20 years old, already has 15 senior England caps. In his first season as a Premier League player, he made 33 appearances and scored 10 goals. Alli recently celebrated scoring his first goal for the club in European competition.
Leon Bailey (Genk) | Most comfortable out wide, Bailey is an exciting young talent. The Jamaican winger lit up the Belgian league in his first season as a pro and was crowned the 2015/16 Young Professional Footballer of the Year. Currently the 19-year-old is enjoying life in the Europa League – he’s played in all of Genk’s group games and scored four times. Commonly linked with various clubs around Europe, Bailey may soon be on his way out of Belgium.
Riechedly Bazoer (Ajax) | Measuring in at 6ft, and still growing, Bazoer has all the credentials to be a fantastic central midfielder. The 20-year-old is still learning and developing as a player but plays with a maturity beyond his years. Currently at Dutch side Ajax, Bazoer is rated highly in his home country and has represented the Netherlands at various age groups, receiving his first call-up to the senior side in October 2015.
Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich) | How many players can say they’ve played for PSG, Juventus and Bayern Munich? Not many, but Coman can. At just 20 the Frenchman has already played top-flight football in France, Italy and Germany – where he’s currently honing his craft in Munich under the watchful eye of Carlo Ancelotti and his parent club Juve.
Amadou Diawara (Napoli) | Spotted at 16 playing for a church team back in his home country, Guinea, Diawara has made Italy his home after moving to San Marino Calcio, playing 15 games for the side in the Italian third tier before Bologna came calling last year. The 19-year-old, now at Napoli, is continuing to progress nicely gaining experience in Serie A and in the Champions League.
Moussa Dembele (Celtic) | Dembele has already scored 17 goals this season and five of those have come in Europe. The Frenchman was Brendan Rodgers’ first signing at Celtic who secured his services from Fulham on a free transfer. The 20-year-old has already demonstrated what he’s capable of against Europe’s elite in this season’s Champions League and you would think it’s only a matter of time until one of them comes sniffing.
Ousmane Dembele (Borussia Dortmund) | Like his namesake and fellow countryman at Celtic, Ousmane is enjoying life in new surroundings right now. After impressing in Ligue 1 with Rennes last season, the attacking midfielder, who can play anywhere behind the striker, moved to Dortmund in the summer and has taken to the Bundesliga and the Champions League. The 19-year-old also made his debut for France back in September.
Breel Embolo (Schalke) | Born in Yaounde, Cameroon, Embolo is rated highly in his adopted country Switzerland. The forward came of age in the 2014/15 season, scoring 16 goals for Basel. He found the net another 13 times the following season before Schalke secured his services in June. Embolo was included in Switzerland’s Euro 2016 squad, appearing in every game in the group stage. Unfortunately the 19-year-old looks set to miss the rest of the season after picking up an injury and undergoing ankle surgery in October.
Demarai Gray (Leicester) | The former Birmingham man hasn’t even been at Leicester for 12 months, but already has a Premier League winner’s medal to his name after joining the club in the January transfer window last season. Gray is yet to establish himself in the first-team – he’s had to make do with appearances off the bench – but if the winger can take his opportunities like he did quite superbly at Old Trafford back in September, the 20-year-old could find himself in Claudio Ranieri’s starting-11 more often.
Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City) | Efficient is the perfect adjective to describe Iheanacho. The City striker has three Premier League goals to his name so far and he’s only started three times. The Nigerian international has also impressed in the Champions League. Back in September he opened up his European account for the club scoring in their 4-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach. He slotted away another against Celtic in the final game of the group phase.
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal) | After representing England at Under-16s, 17s and 18s Iwobi looked destined to one day play in the senior team. However, in 2015 the Arsenal winger opted to represent Nigeria, the country of his birth. To date the 20-year-old has played six times for the Super Eagles and scored one international goal. Since breaking into the Arsenal side last year, Iwobi has come of age and this season looks set to be his busiest as he continues to get more first-team experience.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea) | Loftus-Cheek shone for England Under-21s in the Toulon Tournament back in May, helping them claim the title for the first time in 22 years. The midfielder also took home the Player of the Tournament award after some dazzling displays in France. It was a nice way to finish a season that saw him make 17 first-team appearances for Chelsea. Loftus-Cheek, 20, has had limited game time under Antonio Conte so far this season. A loan move in January could be on the cards.
Olivier Ntcham (Genoa) | Ntcham controversially joined Manchester City back in 2012, aged 16, after refusing to sign a professional contract with La Havre – the club he was with at the time. In the summer of 2015 the French midfielder, inevitably compared to Paul Pogba, signed a two-year loan deal with Italian Serie A side Genoa. During his first season in Italy, Genoa president Enrico Preziosi said: “I’ve been in the world of football 26 years and I’ve never seen a similar player at his age. He has unlimited potential, and is really a fantastic talent.” The 20-year-old looks set for a bright future in the game.
2016 Golden Boy Runner-up Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) | Rashford burst onto the scene in February of this year after dream debuts in the Europa League and then in the Premier League a few days later. The striker scored twice on both occasions and again demonstrated his ruthlessness in front of goal on his England debut, scoring against Australia in a pre-Euro 2016 warm-up game. The United striker made England’s final 23-man squad for the Euros and got some game time. Rashford achieved all of this at just 18.
Now a year older, the United and England front man is adjusting to life as a first-team regular quite nicely. He’s already made 11 league appearances this season – that was his total last term – and has scored four times. As for his England status, the 19-year-old has proved he has what it takes to hold his own in the seniors, but he still has so much to offer the under-21s. It’s vital England give him the best possible opportunity to grow and further develop.
2016 Golden Boy Winner Renato Sanches (Bayern Munich) | An established member of the Benfica first-team at 18, Sanches won the league and cup double with the Portuguese side in the 2015/16 campaign. That year he was also crowned the Primera Liga Breakthrough Player in what would turn out to be his final season at the club. Sanches, who was wanted by some of Europe’s biggest sides including Manchester United, joined German giants Bayern Munich for an initial €35m in the summer.
Before his big money move to Bavaria, the midfielder had an unforgettable couple of months with Portugal at the European Championship. His call-up for Euro 2016 saw him become the youngest Portuguese player to be included in a squad for an international competition, breaking a 12-year record held by Cristiano Ronaldo. Sanches was influential for the eventual tournament winners, making six appearances and scoring one goal in the knockout stage, becoming the third youngest player to do so.
Over the years Portugal have produced some of the biggest names in the game – Eusebio, Luis Figo and Ronaldo are just a few – and the 2016 Golden Boy winner is doing all the right things to solidify his name alongside the Portuguese greats.
Leroy Sané (Manchester City) | Sané comes from good sporting stock – his German mother was a former Olympic gymnast and his Senegalese father was an international footballer. The winger, who is comfortable on both flanks, made a name for himself at Schalke – 57 appearances and 13 goals. Now at City after signing a five-year deal, he’ll be looking to prove he’s worth the £37m the club paid for him.
Jonathan Tah (Bayer Leverkusen) | After a solid debut season with Bayer Leverkusen, Tah was in Miami for a relaxing summer break, or so he thought. He hadn’t even unpacked his suitcase when he was called up to replace the injured Antonio Rudiger in Germany’s Euro 2016 squad. Comfortable with the ball at both feet, Tah usually operates on the right-hand side of a two-man central defence and his 6ft 3in frame means he’s a commanding presence in the backline.
Youri Tielemans (Anderlecht) | Tielemans has been at Anderlecht since the age of five, playing his way up the youth ranks. The midfielder signed his first professional contract in 2013 aged 16. Later on that year, he became the youngest Belgian to play in the Champions League. Now 19, the central midfielder is considered to be one of Anderlecht’s most important players.
Almamy Touré (Monaco) | A product of the Monaco youth system, Touré continues to make steady progress in the first-team. Often compared to French legend Lillian Thuram, Touré, who was born in Mali, is a pacy right-back who likes to get into the opposition’s half. As is the way in this modern day of 3-4-3 formations and utility wing-backs, the 20-year-old possesses an array of attributes that would allow him to adapt to various systems.