The 2015 U-20 World Cup is over. Serbia are the surprise champs, and Mali’s Adama Traoré is the Tournament MVP (Golden Ball award). Pundits view the U-20 as a preview of the world soccer future, a tournament where players Traoré, Portugal’s André Silva, and Brazil’s Danilo preview their future success for the world.
We here at 32 Flags looked back at the past decade of U-20 World Cup top performers and how their careers have played out thus far. What we learned: don’t be too quick to christen 2015’s top performers as the group that will dominate the 2018 World Cup. There’s a lot of unpredictability in these soccer careers.
2013 U-20 World Cup Award Winners
- Paul Pogba (France) — World-class at 22 years old, one of the best defensive midfielders in the world.
- Nicolás López (Uruguay) — Still trying to break out in Italy, playing well for Udinese and Verona. Watch for López to break out in the next year or two.
- Clifford Aboagye (Ghana) — Still only 20 years old and played in the 2015 tournament. Aboagye has yet to break into the first team anywhere, most recently playing on loan for Granada’s B squad. Expect Aboagye to leave Granada this summer looking for a first-team opportunity.
2011 U-20 World Cup Award Winners
- Henrique (Brazil) — Currently 24 years old and looking for regular play-time with a regular squad in Brazil. He’s played for six clubs in the last five years, and at the moment his career looks stalled.
- Nélson Oliveira (Portugal) — Still technically signed with Benfica, although he is loaned out to a different squad every year. Most recently, Swansea City brought in Oliveira to replace Wilfred Bony, where he only scored one goal and was largely disappointing.
- Jorge Enríquez (Mexico) — A lifetime Guadalajara player and a (probable) future cornerstone of Mexico’s future international success. Enríquez has been the centerpiece for all of Mexico’s youth success since 2010; now it’s time for him to succeed at a senior level.
2009 U-20 World Cup Award Winners
- Dominic Adiyiah (Ghana) — Club journeyman. Never caught on at Milan. Most recently played for Thailand-based Nakhon Ratchasima F.C., a club with perhaps the best logo in world soccer.
- Alex Teixeira (Brazil) — One of Shakhtar Donetsk’s most important players for the past five years. Teixeria has performed exceedingly well in the Ukrainian league, so look for him to potentially jump to a larger club in the coming year or two. He’s just 25 and ready to enter the prime of his career.
- Giuliano (Brazil) — Jumped from the Brazilian league to the Ukraine and then back to Brazil this past year. Giuliano’s career stalled with Dnipro, and he didn’t rebound too strongly back in Brazil with Grêmio.
2007 U-20 World Cup Award Winners
- Sergio Agüero (Argentina) — One of the best strikers in the world and the best striker in the Premier League for a few years. Rumored to be on the move from Manchester City to Real Madrid this offseason, but it remains to be seen where Agüero will be come August.
- Maximiliano Moralez (Argentina) — Settled in as a solid club player with Italian club Atalanta.
- Giovani dos Santos (Mexico) — An absolute superstar for Mexico and virtual nobody in club soccer. Personally, I have wondered for years why dos Santos never caught on with a club. He has always been great for Mexico, yet couldn’t even get on the pitch for clubs like Tottenham and Ipswitch. Recently, he’s been just alright for Villarreal, but his potential as a world-class superstar is likely passed.
2005 U-20 World Cup Award Winners
- Lionel Messi (Argentina) — Best in the world for near a decade now, without question.
- John Obi Mikel (Nigeria) — Has been a solid role player for Chelsea for quite a while now. Mikel never developed any sort of offensive game from the midfield, but he has served an important role as an anchor man for some very good Chelsea squads.
- Taye Taiwo (Nigeria) — Currently playing in Turkey after a very solid career with Marseille. Struggled in the past few years with Milan, QPR, and Dynamo Kiev. Had a solid season with Bursaspor and looks to be back in the saddle.
As can be seen from this large list of players, U-20 success does not guarantee future senior success either internationally or with clubs. Of the Golden Ball winners, only three of the last five fulfilled their potential (although one did become the GOAT along the way). Among the Silver and Bronze winners, only John Obi Mikel can lay claim to a highly successful club career, a bit surprising when you consider the level of buzz we saw this year with U-20 prospects.