No German players have been nominated for this year’s Golden Boy Award, which looks to honor the best young player in Europe over the previous 12 months. It's another setback for German football in a difficult 2018.
Shortlists for individual awards in football rarely receive universal approval. Fans and experts will always point to players overlooked and grumble about some of those included.
That no Germans whatsoever are among those on the shortlist for best young player in Europe does seem particularly odd, however. Not only because there is at least one glaring omission, but also because Germany has so long considered itself a breeding ground for the continent’s young talent.
Mario Götze won the award in 2011, joining an illustrious list of recipients including Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi and Sergio Agüero. A German player has been nominated for the award every year for the past decade, with former Leverkusen player Benjamin Henreichs - now at Monaco - making last year's list. This year is different, though.
Kai Havertz is the most obviously overlooked German to find his name omitted from this year’s list of baby-faced nominees. At just 19, the Bayer Leverkusen attacking midfielder has been electric this season, scoring three goals and assisting two in eight appearances. He collected his first Germany cap in September and is considered by many experts as the future of German football.
Phil Foden, by contrast - who is nominated - has never started a Premier League game for Manchester City, managing just 74 minutes in the competition over the past year. He’s also yet to play for England. For the record, Havertz has played 60 games for Leverkusen, scoring eight and assisting 17 since breaking into the first team in 2016.
For anyone immediately jumping to the conclusion Premier League bias has played a role here, it’s important to note the Bundesliga as a whole is well represented. Five players from the league have made the final 40. Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic (USA) and Achraf Hakimi (Morocco, on loan at Dortmund from Real Madrid), Wolfsburg’s Josip Brekalo (Croatia) and RB Leipzig’s Marcelo Saracchi (Uruguay) and Dayot Upamecano (France).
Bizarrely, Jadon Sancho isn’t on there. It would be tough to argue the Englishman’s not been at least as good as those mentioned above since moving to Borussia Dortmund from Manchester City in August 2017. The list is far from perfect, though Germany fans should be worried that, Havertz aside, very few other German players can feel aggrieved about their omission.
That’s not to say there are no other good young German players out there. There are plenty that don’t meet the selection criteria on account of being just a little too old. Leroy Sane, Leon Goretzka, Timo Werner, Joshua Kimmich and Julian Brandt are all younger than 23. But Germany Joachim Löw must be concerned that the talent pool just below that age group appears to be stuttering.
Given the number of overseas Bundesliga players that are nominated, and the many others that haven’t that also ply their trade in Germany’s top tier, there must be a growing concern that young German talents will find their route to the first team blocked by those from elsewhere, and perhaps already are.
After a disappointing summer at the 2018 World Cup, which saw Germany crash out in the opening round for the first time since 1938, the national team promised to lead the country into a new era focusing on the next generation of talent. It would have been nice to point to a handful of players nominated for this award, even if it isn't perfect.