Bayern Munich midfielder Renato Sanches has won the European Golden Boy award for 2016. The award is given to the most exciting young footballer under the age of 21 each calendar year and is chosen by sports journalists from across the continent.
The award now has quite a pedigree in European football after it was first handed out in 2003. The winner that year was Rafael van der Vaart, and he’s been followed by the likes of Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi, and Paul Pogba.
The Portuguese midfielder beat Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford to this year’s prize and his club teammate Kingsley Coman also made the top three.
Despite winning one of Europe’s top awards, Sanches was not necessarily a household name until he joined Bayern over the summer, following a successful campaign at Euro 2016.
But where did the 19-year-old come from? We’ve profiled his career so far, tracking his rise through youth football to becoming one of the most expensive teenagers in history.
Sanches began his journey when he joined Benfica’s academy in 2006, at the age of nine. The club paid a fee of €750 and 25 footballs for his signature. After spending eight years progressing through the club’s youth teams, he made his professional debut in the 2014-15 season, playing for Benfica’s B-team in the Portuguese second division.
His career didn’t get off to the best start, and in the second half of that campaign, the teenager was sent off in two games, after receiving straight red cards. Despite this, after just one season with the reserves, he was promoted to train with the first team. In November 2015, he made his debut in the Champions League against Astana and played the whole 90 minutes. He made his first domestic start the following week, playing in a win against Braga in the Primeira Liga.
At just aged 18, Sanches scored his first Benfica goal from almost 33 yards against Academica to seal a 3-0 league win. He became the youngest Benfica player to score at the Estadio da Luz in the 21st century, and his early performances gained a lot of praise from the Portuguese media as well as earning him a run in the first team.
Sanches gained continental media attention for the wrong reasons in April 2016, after receiving racial abuse from a section of Rio Ave supporters during an away match. He responded to their monkey noises when leaving the pitch with a smile and as he walked off, mimicked a monkey back to them.
The then 18-year-old was called up to Portugal’s Euro 2016 squad after a solid club campaign. He became the youngest Portuguese player to be called up for an international tournament, breaking the record held by Cristiano Ronaldo for 12 years.
He made his competitive international debut against Iceland in their opening group game, coming on as a substitute in the last 10 minutes. After his country advanced through the group, he then scored the only goal of the game against Croatia in their last 16 matchup, sending Portugal through to the quarter-finals. He was also named Man of the Match for his performance.
In the quarter-finals against Poland, he broke another of Ronaldo’s records, becoming his country’s youngest ever to start at an international tournament. He became the third youngest player ever to score in a knockout game at a European Championship tournament when he equalised. He then scored his penalty in the shootout to help his country through to the semis. He was again named Man of the Match.
He started the Euro 2016 final against France and was replaced after 79 minutes by Eder, who scored the only goal of the match in extra time at the Stade de France.
With this, Sanches also became the youngest ever player to play in a European Championship winning side and was named the Young Player of the Tournament following the conclusion of the championships.
After a great season, Europe’s Golden Boy transferred to Bayern Munich for an original fee of €35 million. It could rise to as much as €80 million with €45 million depending on objectives. With this fee, he became the most expensive Portuguese player to leave the Primera Division.
Sanches made his Bayern debut after recovering from a thigh injury on September 9. Since then, he has played five more times for one of the world’s biggest clubs, and he will be sure to have a successful career if he carries on the way he’s started.