Monday 15 May 2017, 12:02

Champions forged and stars ignited

  • The likes of Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and Paul Pogba have all been named the tournament’s best player

  • Only 11 individuals have won the FIFA U-20 World Cup and FIFA World Cup™

  • Andre Ayew: “The greatest moment of my career"

The FIFA U-20 World Cup has been the springboard for many a household name in football. We take a closer look at some of the stars to rise to the top of the game after impressing over 40 years of the tournament.

Golden boys

The awards podiums of U-20 World Cups past read like a who’s who of Argentina’s finest striking talent. Names like Diego Maradona, Javier Saviola, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero are impressive alumni to have earned the adidas Golden Ball – with only Maradona not taking the adidas Golden Boot too (being denied by one Ramon Diaz)!

The likes of Mali legend Seydou Keita and United Arab Emirates’s Ismaeil Matar both graduated top of their class to become national icons, earning over 100 caps apiece. While names like Robert Prosinecki and Adriano have similarly brought joy to fans of Croatia and Brazil, with Paul Pogba well on the way to doing the same.

In their words

“Winning the U-20 World Cup in Qatar was one of the best days of my life." Juan Pablo Sorin, Argentina

“I know that my good performances there provided me with a gateway to the senior side. But on top of that, I learned a lot." Oscar, Brazil

"[The U-20s] gave me a great grounding. You learn so much at tournaments like these.” Michael Owen, England

“It’s a wonderful time in your development. It’s just a shame I can’t go back! I miss those times." Michel Salgado, Spain

"[Winning the U-20 World Cup] is quite simply the greatest moment of my career." Andre Ayew, Ghana

“I found it a very enriching experience, both as a footballer and a person. I’d always dreamt of taking part in competitions like this and I’ll remember it forever.” Falcao, Colombia

Two peaks, 11 champions

Leaving the U-20 World Cup laden with gold is no easy feat, and raise the bar a notch or two higher for the FIFA World Cup. So, achieving both puts you in a seriously exclusive club: One with just 11 members!

  • Diego Maradona and Cesar Menotti, coach (Argentina): Japan 1979 (U-20) and Mexico 1986 (World Cup)

  • Dunga, Bebeto and Jorginho (Brazil): Mexico 1983 and USA 1994

  • Taffarel and Muller (Brazil): Soviet Union 1985 and USA 1994

  • Dida (Brazil): Australia 1993 and Korea/Japan 2002

  • Iker Casillas, Carlos Marchena and Xavi Hernandez (Spain): Nigeria 1999 and South Africa 2010

The class of 2015

Having caught the eye in New Zealand, Brazil’s Gabriel Jesus has been one of the standout graduates, with the Manchester City forward giving A Seleção a shot in the arm on the way to Russia 2018 and clinching Olympic gold at Rio 2016. Another to make his mark on World Cup qualifying is Andre Silva. The Portuguese has gone from sinking four goals at the U-20s to scoring five in five on the road to Russia.

Among the awards were Ukraine’s Viktor Kovalenko – picking up the Golden Boot – and adidas Bronze ball winner Sergei Milinkovi-Savic of Serbia. The pair have both been raising eyebrows with their performances for Shakhtar Donetsk and Lazio respectively.

Julians Brandt and Weigl have similarly been impressing in the German Bundesliga, while Argentina’s Angel Correa is making a name for himself at Atletico Madrid. Mexico forward Hirving Lozano, meanwhile has had a fine 2017, winning the CONCACAF Champions League with Pachuca, while picking up the golden boot and best young player.