Data Analysis

Spotlight: Golden Boy nominees

13/04/17 | SciSports

Every year, thirty European football journalists cast their vote for the Golden Boy award for the best young player under the age 21 in Europe. Established in 2003 by Italian newspaper Tuttosport, the award has been won by several now-superstars such as Wayne Rooney (2004), Lionel Messi (2005), Sergio Agüero (2007) and Paul Pogba (2013). A list of 98 nominees for this year have been announced, so we decided to put the youngsters in the spotlight and compare them to our SciSkill Index.

First of all, people might have different ideas about what the ‘most talented youngster’ means. Is it the young player who is the best among his peers? Is it the player who has experienced the biggest development over the recent year? Or is the player who is estimated to have the biggest future? There are several ways of looking at ‘talent’, so naturally, our SciSkill Index is able to do so as well.

We used three variables to look at the nominees: the highest current SciSkill score, the biggest increase in SciSkill score over the past six months and the highest Potential Score. For each of these variables, we made a top five.

Highest current SciSkill Score    

Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic leads the pack with a SciSkill score of 91.6, the same score as Alban Lafont from Toulouse. Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma is not far behind, while Mikel Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad) and Pulisic’ teammate Ousmane Dembélé come in as fourth and fifth. Pulisic also has the second highest Potential Score from these five players, just behind Donnarumma. He also saw the most progress in the last six months, boosting his SciSkill Score almost 50% in that period.

That 18-year-old Pulisic tops the table is perhaps not all that surprising. The American-born youngster has had an excellent season so far, playing 1190 league minutes for Dortmund, scoring three times and giving five assists. He also played in all of Dortmund’s Champions League matches, in five of them the whole 90 minutes.

Biggest difference last six months

Perhaps a surprising name at the top here. OGC Nice defender Malang Sarr has seen the biggest increase in his SciSkill score, more than doubling it in six months (from 30.5 to 66.6). Fiorentina’s Federico Chiesa is second before Kai Havertz of Bayer Leverkusen (who became the youngest goalscorer for Leverkusen ever this month). Theo Hernández and Alejandro Pozo, both playing in Spain, complete the top five.

Malang Sarr’s career has been, in short, explosive. The central defender, who turned 18 this January, joined the first team this summer, made his senior debut in the first league match of the season and then scored the winning goal (1-0). Things looked perfect for the Frenchman, but after some lack of concentrated defending in the disappointing 3-0 loss against Monaco, he lost his place in the team. In the last four league matches, he was part of the match squad once again but has since only played two minutes (one minute each versus Bordeaux and Lille). Still, Sarr is only 18 years old and has his whole career in front of him. His strong performances in the first half of the season do bode well for the future.

Note: Leeds United midfielder Ronaldo Vieira was actually ranked fifth, but was not nominated for the Golden Boy award.

Highest Potential Score

The top five here consists of five familiar names. Top of the table Theo Hernández already ranked fourth in the ‘Biggest difference over the last six months’-table, while Donnarumma, Pulisic, and Dembélé are part of the top five with the highest SciSkill Score. Number five Federico Chiesa is ranked second in the biggest increase over the last six months.

Atletico Madrid loanee Theo Hernández has been somewhat of a revelation in La Liga, giving four assists for mid-league team Deportivo Alavés while also picking up 10 yellow cards. The French left-back (19) has missed only five matches so far, three of them through suspension. Due to his strong performances, he is already being linked with clubs such as Barcelona and Real Madrid, although a return to Atletico this summer seems the most likely.

Note: Manchester United left-back Cameron Borthwick-Jackson was actually ranked fifth, but was not nominated for the Golden Boy award.

The ‘real’ Golden Boy?
In this poll by Italian newspaper Tuttosport, AC Milan goalkeeper Donnarumma is currently ahead of his competition, although that might just be because of the fact it is an Italian newspaper. Looking at the SciSkill tables, he is definitely a competitor ranking #2 and #3 in two of the three tables. The fact he has not seen a big increase in his score in the last months is perhaps because he was already a starter for AC Milan at such a young age.

Number two in the poll is AS Monaco’s Kylian Mbappé, who as you might have noticed is absent from our lists. That does not mean our algorithm thinks Mbappé lacks talent or quality. However, due to the fact that Mbappé has played at a lower level (Monaco II) and as a substitute early in his career, our model has not yet caught up with his rapid development in recent months. But, as you can see in the tweet below, Mbappé is already on a higher level than Ousmane Dembélé was at that age. In other words: no reason for Mbappé fans to get those pitchforks out just yet.

Another candidate for the award is Dortmund’s Pulisic, who not only has the highest current SciSkill Score, but also the third-highest Potential Score and the seventh-highest increase over the last six months of all Golden Boy nominees. Fun facts: Pulisic is the youngest player to make his debut for USA's senior team since Freddy Adu in 2006 (the fifth youngest in total), the youngest to score a goal for the USA, the youngest foreigner to score a goal in the Bundesliga and the youngest player to ever score two goals in one match in the Bundesliga.

Other players, such as Theo Hernández, Ousmane Dembélé, and Federico Chiesa, are also valid options according to our SciSkill Index. The winner of the Golden Boy Award will be announced after the summer.