Ranking the Top 15 Contenders on the Golden Boy Shortlist

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterOctober 5, 2018

Ranking the Top 15 Contenders on the Golden Boy Shortlist

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    The shortlist for the 2018 Golden Boy award has been narrowed down to 40 names, all of whom will be hoping to lift the same trophy the likes of Isco, Paul Pogba, Raheem Sterling and Kylian Mbappe already have.

    Here B/R sifts through the list, ditches more than half of it and ranks the 15 most deserving candidates.

    Deciding which names to leave aside wasn't a difficult process. Considering the award is given based on how strong a calendar year the player has had, it's remarkable that players like Nicolo Zaniolo (93 first-team minutes in 2018) and Jota (yet to make his first-team bow for Benfica) are included.

    Add that to the fact the likes of Ryan Sessegnon (nominated for PFA Young Player of the Year) and Jadon Sancho (trailblazing for English youngsters in the Bundesliga) aren't included, and it makes for a strange list.

    Ordering the top 15 was understandably tough. The top two feel pretty iron-clad, but from three down to eight, there are some valid arguments about which go each way. Take a look, enjoy and let us know who you think will win the trophy in the comments section below.


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    15. Patrick Cutrone, AC Milan

    Cutrone came to the fore last season in AC Milan's hour of need, making such an impact up front that he ended up booting both Andre Silva and Nikola Kalinic out of the team.

    He's been less important lately but still has 12 goals and four assists this calendar year, making him a top-15 candidate for the award.


    14. Alban Lafont, Fiorentina

    Lafont is one of the best young goalkeepers on the planet, but the latter part of his 2017-18 season wasn't the strongest patch of football he's produced. The summer move to Fiorentina should help him start to up his levels again.


    13. Militao, FC Porto

    Militao has been making strides in 2018. A strong beginning to the year with Sao Paulo led to a summer transfer to FC Porto, and his versatility—he can play right-back, centre-back and even in midfield—has ensured he's getting good game time in Portugal.


    12. Moussa Wague, Barcelona

    Wague turned impressing for Eupen in the Belgian First Division A playoffs into a platform to play at the FIFA World Cup for Senegal. It was there that he became the youngest African goalscorer in finals history.

    Barcelona liked what they saw and took a punt on him, placing him in the B team for now. From Eupen to the Camp Nou in the space of four months!


    11. Dayot Upamecano, RB Leipzig

    Upamecano represents one half of a promising young French central-defensive partnership alongside Ibrahima Konate at RB Leipzig. He has the physical attributes coaches fawn over but hasn't improved the tactical and technical parts of his game much this year.

    There's still a route to the elite for Upamecano, but his progress has stalled a little, and that keeps him outside our top 10.

10. Marcelo Saracchi, RB Leipzig

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    The Copa Libertadores can be a great scouting ground for European clubs—a statement Marcelo Saracchi can testify to.

    His strong form for River Plate in the competition across 2017 and 2018 caught the eye of a number of teams, and RB Leipzig pulled the trigger on a deal to bring him over this summer.

    A flying, full-throttle left-back who is cut from the typical Uruguayan cloth, his calendar year has been an unmitigated success. A senior international debut can't be far away.

9. Tom Davies, Everton

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    Tom Davies has had a lower-key 2018 than many of the players on this list, lacking that big-money, exciting summer transfer or international story.

    But quietly, Davies has made his mark on this Everton side to such an extent that he's been leading them out as captain at times.

    Recent strong showings against Arsenal and Fulham have shown a composed element to his game that complements the tenacious, mobile elements we've seen in the past.

8. Justin Kluivert, Roma

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    Perhaps Justin Kluivert's goal on Tuesday in the Champions League will be a watershed moment.

    Playing time has been a little rare since he moved from Ajax to Roma in the summer, but he scored his first goal for the Giallorossi in a storming performance against Viktoria Plzen, perhaps encouraging Eusebio Di Francesco to give him a run of games.

    Kluivert is a player who, should you excuse his baby-faced features, looks older than 19 when he plays; from the start of his professional career, his decision-making and dual-footedness have set him apart.

    He scored and created consistently for Ajax last season and will soon be pulling the same tricks on a bigger stage.

7. Christian Pulisic, Borussia Dortmund

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    Christian Pulisic doesn't do calm, placid years.

    Aged just 20 and having been at the same club for three years, he's somehow already had four managers, played in both the Champions League and the Europa League, and suffered the drama of missing out on a World Cup with his national team.

    That's sometimes how football goes, but it's been remarkable how he's just got on with it, continuing to improve his game each year despite the turbulent background setting. He's not the key figure at Borussia Dortmund now that he was under Peter Stoger, but he's put together a good year and scored some important goals of late.

6. Amadou Haidara, RB Salzburg

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    The Red Bull tree of football development produces some excellent players. We've seen the likes of Sadio Mane, Naby Keita and Dayot Upamecano start with Salzburg and then move up the ladder, and there are no prizes for guessing who the next star off the production line will be.

    Amadou Haidara has had a scintillating year, consistently bossing the Austrian Bundesliga while also making waves in European competition. He was a central figure in Salzburg's run to the Europa League semi-finals last season, netting against both Lazio and Marseille in the knockout stages.

    There have been some natural comparisons to Keita, but Haidara tends to dribble less than Keita and perhaps pass a little more. He can split defences in two with ease and wriggle out from under pressure and switch play.

5. Ismaila Sarr, Rennes

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    Rennes took a big gamble on Ismaila Sarr in the summer of 2017, spending in the region of £15 million to lure him from Metz. That's not the sort of money a club like Rennes usually drops in one go.

    It's indicative of his quality, and in the end he proved to be worth it. Recovering from a knee injury that forced him to miss 12 games in the first half of the season, he hit 2018 with a bang and used the momentum to win a starting spot at the World Cup with Senegal and shine. He has three goals already this term—one of which was a rocket against Jablonec in the Europa League.

4. Matthijs de Ligt, Ajax

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    To hand the captain's armband to a teenager is usually seen as a bizarre move, but in the case of Matthijs de Ligt at Ajax, it just felt right.

    Since breaking into the first team at the back end of the 2016-17 season, he's become the leader of the defensive line, showcasing everything you would want in a centre-half: positioning, aggression, tackling, recovery speed and organisational ability.

    This year, he's helped Ajax into the Champions League proper and even made his case to be Virgil van Dijk's partner for the Netherlands national team. There's no silverware to show for his career to date, but that's a matter of when, not if.

3. Houssem Aouar, Lyon

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    Poor Houssem Aouar. Midfield colleague Tanguy Ndombele is hoovering up all of the hype and credit while Aouar, who receives very little by comparison, is just as big a prospect and equally worth raving about.

    That will suit Lyon fine, who will be happy to hold on to this silky-smooth playmaker for as long as they can.

    Aouar's dribbling skills can be mesmeric, the subtle shifts of his body fooling defenders, allowing him to manoeuvre around them despite lacking speed, and his creative passing is top-notch. Impressively, he's shone in at least three different positions in 2018, suggesting he will do well no matter where you place him on the pitch.

    The 20-year-old has made immense strides this calendar year and is on the cusp of breaking into the wider footballing consciousness.

2. Trent Alexander-Arnold, RB, Liverpool

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    What a year it's been for Trent Alexander-Arnold. To rise so rapidly to a position where you're playing in a Champions League final and appearing at the World Cup finals at age 19 is incredible.

    He's already one of the best right-backs in football. The occasional naive moment causes Liverpool trouble, but few can dominate a flank like he can, few can cross like he can and he might already be one of the best set-piece takers on the planet.

    Perhaps his coming-of-age moment was his brilliant one-on-one performance against Leroy Sane in last season's Champions League quarter-finals. That matchup was one many had picked out for Manchester City to get the better of but ended up being Liverpool's big win across the tie.

1. Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain

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    Did you expect anyone else to feature at No. 1?

    Kylian Mbappe, the reigning Golden Boy, will surely be handed the trophy once again after a stellar 2018.

    He won a domestic treble with Paris Saint-Germain and then went on to secure the World Cup with France. That trophy haul was rewarded with a spot in the FIFPro World XI, placing him in the same company as Lionel Messi and Luka Modric.

    Mbappe has been one of the best players in 2018 regardless of age restrictions and looks a shoo-in for this award.