Golden Boy 2017

In mid-September, Italian newspaper Tuttosport released a list of 25 nominees for the golden boy award. It awards Europe’s best player under the age of 21 under consideration of their performance in the current calendar year. The list includes one goalkeeper, six defenders, three central midfielders, seven wingers and eight strikers. Concerning the distribution of nominees across on-field positions, it seems as if offense-minded players were preferably chosen. To understand the strengths and weaknesses of the nominated players, I used data of season 16-17 and the ongoing 17-18 season to compose a rating for each player, which you can see here:
Saint-MaximinCalvert-LewinEmre MorTheoEnes UnalAaron MartinJoe GomezDolbergRashfordDiawaraChiesaTielemansAugustinBorja MayoralDembéléPulisicBentancurHenrichsBergwijnMbappéG. JesusRanking of golden boy nominees626667686970737373757676777878787879808284
Interesting result, isn’t it? Gabriel Jesus on top, Kylian Mbappé only second while the new signing of Barcelona Ousmane Dembélé is ranked only at position 7. I will go in detail on specific players later, but let us look at some general aspects first. As you can see in the graphic, the majority of players has a rating above 72, while five players are listed below 70 and three players above 80. With the average of Footballelixir ratings in general being at 72.5, the graphic shows, that 15 of the listed 21 players are rated above this general average, which makes sense, as this is a selection of the best under 21 players in Europe. But why are there only 21 of the 25 nominated players in this list? Well, with Reece Oxford, Dominic Solanke and Kyle Walker-Peters three English players could not be ranked, because they played less than 300 minutes in the given period. As I am also figuring out how to compose a rating for goalkeepers, I have not included Gianluigi Donnarumma in this list. But enough said about general aspects, let us dive into detail.

The champion
If you would ask me to name the winner of 2017’s golden boy award, I would select Gabriel Jesus. The 20-year old Brazilian, who plays for Manchester City since January 2017 put up absolute monstrous statistics in this calendar year. Have a look at his detailed rating:
Player Rating Gabriel Jesus84ExpectedGoalsExpectedGoalsPassingPassingPossessionControlPossessionControlDefenseDefenseMatchPracticeMatchPractice
Starting with his scoring ability, Jesus’ expected goals value per 90 in this calendar year was completely outstanding. He had nearly 0.7 expected goals per game, which is an absolute elite value, that only world-class-strikers like Cristiano Ronaldo or Luis Suárez reach. Of course, we need to regard in this comparison, that Ronaldo and Suárez have reached this value over multiple seasons, whereas Jesus’ stats came only off 1000 minutes playing time in this year, as the award only looks at the performance in 2017. He still needs to prove this level over multiple seasons, but he looks absolutely promising. And it is not only about his scoring ability, he also makes good decisions with the ball. His possession control value is pretty good for a striker, because he loses the ball only 4 times per 90 minutes in relation to 32 passes and 3.5 shots. These 32 passes are actually pretty outstanding as well, as strikers tend to play much less passes. 25 of these passes find a teammate, with one of them being an assist to a shot on goal, giving him a decent passing rating as well. Manchester City’s number 33 is even slightly contributing defensively, on average he wins a tackle and blocks a pass every 90 minutes. Adding to these amazing stats, I have to outline, that his rating for this analysis was capped at 84, because his sample size of minutes in 2017 is only around 1000. Otherwise, his rating would have been at 94. Yes, you read that right, at 94 (!). But even the 84 he received positions him at the top of this ranking. Gabriel Jesus would totally deserve to win the golden boy award, but he has a powerful opponent, who is the sure favorite to win it in public perception.

The favorite
What a show Kylian Mbappé has put up in 2017. 24 goals. 11 assists. Debuted in the French national team. Will be the second most-expensive player in the history of football in the upcoming summer transfer window. Has multiplied his salary 20 times with his move to PSG. And he did all that at just 18 years of age. However, he is just at second place in this ranking, let us see why:
Player Rating Kylian Mbappé82ExpectedGoalsExpectedGoalsPassingPassingPossessionControlPossessionControlDefenseDefenseMatchPracticeMatchPractice
First of all, I prefer to look at the expected goals of a player rather than his actual goals, because expected goals explain the scoring ability of a player better than goals. That being said, Mbappé massively outperformed his XG-value of last season. Summarizing the 16-17 and 17-18 season, he had 14 expected goals in Ligue 1 and Champions League, yet scored 24 goals in these competitions. His expected goals value is very good though, he had 0.53 expected goals per 90 minutes, which is absolute top-class. Speaking about his passing, I unfortunately do not have data about expected assists, but his total of 43 key passes in comparison to his 13 assists in Ligue 1 and Champions League could be a signal for him overperforming in this area of the game as well. Thus, his passing is a bit lower rated than a pure look at his assists suggests. His passing rating is still very decent though. However, what Mbappé needs to improve is his possession control. He has 5.3 occasions per 90 minutes, where he is either dispossessed or loses the possession because of an unsuccessful touch. Regarding his total amount of passes and shots, that is way too much, which leads to him receiving the minimum value in possession control. His defensive contribution is little, which is okay for a striker. Concerning match practice, he put up incredible numbers for an 18-year-old. Until now, he played a combined total of 3000 minutes in 2017 for PSG, Monaco and the French national team, which is the highest value among the nominated players for the golden boy award. To draw a conclusion, Mbappé looks like the best player among the ones nominated for the golden boy award, but the story changes a bit, if you look at advanced statistics.

The hidden gem
In a ranking with Ousmane Dembélé, Christian Pulisic, Marcus Rashford and Youri Tielemans, it was surprising for me that 20-year old Steven Bergwijn playing at PSV Eindhoven is listed as the third best player, but his stats are very decent:
Player Rating Steven Bergwijn80ExpectedGoalsExpectedGoalsPassingPassingPossessionControlPossessionControlDefenseDefenseMatchPracticeMatchPractice
Unlike Mbappé and Gabriel Jesus, Steven Bergwijn played mostly on the left or right wing in 16-17 and 17-18, therefore his stats look a bit different than the ones displayed before. In the mentioned two seasons, he achieved 0.37 expected goals per 90 minutes, which is actually outstanding for a winger. He outclasses Dembélé, Pulisic and Rashford in that regard. Adding to his amazing XG-value, he shows decent passing skills with two short key passes per 90 and a passing accuracy of 83%. His 27 accurate passes per 90 are as well very good for an offensive-minded player. His possession control is average, meaning he does not lose the ball too often, but he can still improve in this area. However, in a ranking with a lot of players that lose possession very often, it gives him a slight advantage. His defensive contribution is a little below average concerning he is not a central striker but a winger nonetheless. Speaking about his match practice, he can still play more minutes. In 2017, he has played around 1500 minutes, while being subbed in and out in the majority of games. To sum it up, Bergwijn was absolute top-class regarding passing and scoring in the underlying time frame, while he has still room to improve in keeping the ball and contributing defensively. Once he has proven this quality in a higher number of matches, it should not take long until a top club provides a serious offer to sign him. To what he has shown so far, he deserves a very high place in the golden boy ranking.

The best defender
Although there are not many defenders included in this ranking, there is one who is listed at the fourth place, which is Benjamin Henrichs.
Player Rating Benjamin Henrichs79ExpectedGoalsExpectedGoalsPassingPassingPossessionControlPossessionControlDefenseDefenseMatchPracticeMatchPractice
Benjamin Henrichs is a 20-year old German defender and can play both as left or right back. He plays for Bayer 04 Leverkusen on a regular basis and has also played three matches in the German national team. What makes him so outstanding is his tremendous defending. Per 90 minutes in 16-17 and 17-18, he achieved nearly 4 successful tacklings, about 3.7 interceptions and 1.8 blocks. If you are not into defensive stats, that is a very high contribution. Naturally for a defender, his possession control is quite high. His offensive contribution is slightly below average for a wing back, he provides the offense with 0.7 key passes per 90, while his amount of expected goals is close to zero. Concerning match practice, he played 2000 minutes in 2017, which lifts his rating up a few points. Compared to the other defenders, which are nominated for the golden boy award, he outclasses each one by far in defensive actions, while his steady contribution in every other area (despite XG) helps him to reach the fourth-highest rating.

It is an illustrious class, which is nominated for this year’s golden boy award. A lot of the nominees are already playing in top clubs on a regular basis and have debuted in their respective national teams. Nearly half of them were transfered in 2017 for an aggregated transfer fee of 255 million Euro, whereas Kylian Mbappé’s transfer fee of 180 million Euro is not even included, because he will be officially bought by PSG in the upcoming summer. The ranking of the players revealed some hidden gems like Steven Bergwijn and Borja Mayoral, whereas not every player who was transferred for a high fee might be as good as he is told to be.