As Spain gained revenge for their loss two years ago to Germany in the under 21 European Championship final this weekend, one player stood out from the rest. After picking up the trophy, Napoli midfielder Fabian Ruiz also picked up the famous Golden Ball award having scored the crucial opening goal in the final. He also played a big part in his side reaching the final.
Ruiz will hope to develop into one of the top midfielders in world football over the next few years after some fantastic performances that saw him register two goals and two assists over the course of the tournament. The 23-year-old has flourished and will hope to replicate some of the prestigious winners from the past. Let’s take a look through some of the previous winners of this award.
Rudi Voller - Germany (1982)
One of the best players in Germany’s history. World Cup winner and runner up, Champions League winner, Coppa Italia winner and Bundesliga bagsman. One that really lived up to the potential.
Mark Hateley - England (1984)
Hateley had come off the back of a phenomenal season for Portsmouth where he scored 22 goals in 38 league games. England won the tournament and Hateley top scored, before moving to AC Milan and Monaco in the late 80s. He played in the 1986 World Cup for England but made his name at Rangers playing 169 times for them and picking up six Scottish titles.
Laurent Blanc - France (1988)
Part of the footballing elite, Blanc is another huge name to have won this award. Most of the winners on this list won the U21 tournament and the defender is no different. He went on to replicate that international success by winning the World Cup and European Championships as well as winning a whole host of trophies for Barcelona, Marseille and Manchester United. He isn’t bad as a manager either...
Davor Suker - Yugoslavia (1990)
Suker is iconic for every football fan growing up in the 1990s. He thrilled for Seviila, got his move to Real Madrid and shone for Croatia at the 1998 World Cup, winning the Golden Boot. He was a pioneer for an independent Croatia and will go down as the most important players in their history. Not a bad list so far...
Luis Figo - Portugal (1994)
Figo. Another icon. He failed to win another major trophy for his country, coming so close at Euro 2004 but if you play for both Barcelona and Real Madrid you have succeeded in your footballing career. Barca fans may not agree with me on that one but he was a true great of the game.
Fabio Cannavaro - Italy (1996)
One of the best defenders of all time, Cannavaro went on to win the World Cup with Italy and pick up the Ballon d’Or. An Italian legend who played for Napoli, Parma, Inter and Juventus along with Real Madrid, he had everything you would want in a defender and showed this leadership and will to win at a young age.
Andrea Pirlo - Italy (2000)
One of the most graceful players in the modern era, Pirlo made his name at Inter before then inexplicably let him go to rivals AC in 2001. He had already shown promise at the U21 tournament and became an AC Milan great, winning the Champions League. He then left for Juventus in a shock move but established himself as one of the finer midfielders of the 21st century.
Petr Cech - Czech Republic (2002)
These Golden Ball selectors do a pretty good job don’t they? Two years before his move to Chelsea, where he would establish himself as one of the best keepers in the world, he won the U21, beating France on penalties in the final. The rest is history for Cech who went on to become one of the greatest Premier League players before recently hanging up his gloves after a spell with Arsenal.
Juan Mata - Spain (2011)
Including Ruiz, four out of the last five winners of this award have been Spanish, such has been their dominance of the tournament and football in general over the past decade. Juan Mata started off this trend after a fantastic display in the summer of 2011, the same year he swapped Valencia for Chelsea. He shone in the Premier League in his first few years and his class is still there, even as an aging player in a poor Manchester United side.
Thiago Alcantara in 2013, Dani Ceballos in 2017 and now Fabian Ruiz have shown that the future looks incredibly bright indeed for Spain. Looking at this list it looks like an easy path to footballing stardom but the other winners, such as Alberto Gilardino, Royston Drenthe and Francesc Arnau show that is not always the case.