Jude Bellingham’s extraordinary start to the 2023/24 season continued with the collection of the Golden Boy award for the best young player in Europe.
The 20-year-old has been the outstanding player in La Liga since joining Real Madrid in June for an initial £88 million ($109.4m).
Bellingham’s influence has also become indispensable for England, following up a goal and assist in a friendly against Scotland by setting up two of England’s goals in the 3-1 home win over Italy that sent them to UEFA Euro 2024.
There had seemed little doubt that Bellingham would follow in the footsteps of the likes of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland by winning the Golden Boy award, coming less than three weeks after he became the first English player to win the Ballon d’Or Kopa Trophy for the best-performing player in the world under the age of 21.
What are the origins of the European award and how is it decided? Here’s what you need to know and what Bellingham had to say about his win.
MORE: The results of the 2023 Golden Boy vote
Established in 2003 by Italian publication Tuttosport, the Golden Boy has grown into one of the most prestigious awards in European football.
The prize is given to the best player in Europe under the age of 21 years old. To be a contender in 2023, players had to have been born on January 1, 2003, or later. The player had to be playing in the top flight of a European nation ranked in the top 25 across the continent based on UEFA’s coefficient rankings.
While Tuttosport established the award, it’s now presented as a joint effort between a number of big European publications including Bild from Germany, L’Equipe and France Football from France, Marca and Mundo Deportivo from Spain, The Times from England, De Telegraaf from the Netherlands, and A Bola from Portugal.
Rafael van der Vaart won the inaugural award in 2003 as a youngster with Dutch club Ajax. Past winners of the award include Messi (2005), Cesc Fabregas (2006), Sergio Aguero (2007), Paul Pogba (2013), Mbappe (2017) and Haaland (2020).
Bellingham’s win means that 10 forwards and 10 midfielders have won the award, but only one defender (Matthijs de Ligt, in 2018) has been given the honour. No goalkeeper has yet won it.
In order to qualify for the Golden Boy award, players must play for a team in a top division in one of the top 25 leagues in Europe based on UEFA coefficient rankings as of May 2023 (such as the English Premier League).
The award is then voted for by journalists across Europe. These votes are worth a certain number of points, rather like the Ballon d’Or: 10 points to a journalist’s first choice, seven for their second, five for their third, three for their fourth, and one for their fifth. Those points are then tallied to determine the final rankings, and the winner.
To help the journalists make their selection, 2023 saw the implementation of the ‘Golden Boy Index’. This is a data- and analytics-driven tool, powered by Football Benchmark, that those casting their votes could use to assess who had been the best Under-21 player in the past year.
This system took into account sporting performance, amount of playing time, and the strength of the team for which the player plays. Performances for national sides and in UEFA competitions were used for a ‘bonus metric’. The ranking was based on games played between the start of the 2022 World Cup (which began on November 22 last year) and October 2, 2023.
Bellingham won 97 percent of the journalists’ vote and finished 200 points above second-placed Jamal Musiala, Tuttosport said, likening his lead to the huge advantage amassed by Max Verstappen at the top of this season’s Formula One Driver Standings.
A separate Golden Boy Web award is given out based solely on an internet voting process. The Golden Boy Web award has existed since 2018.
Bellingham was also comfortably top of the public poll.
Reacting with a Real Madrid backdrop, Bellingham used a video message to thank the voters for his latest accolade.
“I’d like to thank everyone who’s been part of my journey so far at Birmingham, [Borussia] Dortmund and now Madrid,” he added.
“It wouldn’t be possible without them and there are so many that I’d be here for hours naming them all.
“Lastly, and most importantly, my family give me the support and motivation, the love to keep striving.
“Now that I’ve got this beautiful award, I want to keep going and keep pushing the limits of my potential. Hopefully, there will be many more trophies to come.”