Award season is a fun, if not a little silly, time. Some of soccer’s most celebrated trophies are merit based and irrefutable - Aubameyang’s Golden Boot last year, for instance - but most are popularity contests awarded by a variety of governing bodies based on any number of objective criteria. The Ballon d’Or tops them all, of course, followed by any number of “best player” awards. My personal favorite is the awkwardly-named Golden Boy award, which is awarded to the best player under 21 in Europe. Founded in 2003 by Italian outlet Tuttosport, the list of past winners is a who’s-who of modern greats, including Arsenal’s sole winner Cesc Fabregas in 2006.
Today, the 100 player short list was announced, replete with plenty of young players already making a name for themselves across Europe. Among the field are four Arsenal players: Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, William Saliba, and Trae Coyle. With four nominees, Arsenal are tied with Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund for the most on the shortlist.
It should come as no surprise to see some of the names on there. Both Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli have had eye-catching debut seasons for the Gunners and are more than deserving of their inclusion. While he may have featured for St. Etienne this season on loan, William Saliba was technically an Arsenal player, so we get to claim it if he wins it (he won’t). The defender put together the type of promising campaign in France that gives Arsenal fans hope for a less porous back line in seasons to come.
Trae Coyle’s inclusion, however, is...interesting. Playing for Arsenal’s U23 side, he is one of the few players on the list that does not feature for a first team. I am not going to lie and pretend that I follow the Academy teams with any major emphasis, so I have little-to-no frame of reference for his inclusion besides his stat line, which is not entirely inspiring with 2 goals and 3 assists. Regardless, the 19 year old is representing Arsenal among a star-studded list of baby-faced talent, so I can be nothing but happy for the young man.
Coyle’s nomination is also interesting considering omissions of more recognizable Arsenal youngsters - namely, first-team players Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson, both 20 years old, an on-loan Emile Smith Rowe, 19. This is in no way a knock on Coyle, but certainly worth mentioning considering the more prominent roles of the three omitted players compared to Coyle.
While no date has been announced for when the trophy will be awarded, it will be fun to see how far any of Arsenal’s players makes it in the process. While the odds are not great that any of them will win it, you can always hope, right?
Just kidding. Erling Braut Haland is going to win it.