On the 30th of October 2023, Real Madrid and England star Jude Bellingham won the Kopa Trophy. This is a relatively new award and in this article we will look back at the previous stars to have won it and how their careers have developed since. We will also look at the players who came second and third each year but before that, let’s take a closer look at the award itself.
What is the Kopa Trophy?
Like many of world football’s biggest prizes, the Kopa Trophy has its origins in France. It was created by France Football, a French weekly magazine that also created the Ballon d’Or. It is awarded alongside the Ballon d’Or, along with other key awards such as the female Ballon d’Or, the Ballon d’Or Feminin, and the Yashin Trophy (awarded to the top goalkeeper in the world).
The dates to which the Kopa Trophy relates can change but in 2023 it was based on performances between the 1st of August 2022 and the 31st of July 2023. It is designed to recognise the best player in the world who is under the age of 21 and the winner is decided by all past winners of the Ballon d’Or. It has a similar profile to the Golden Boy prize, though that award, founded by the Italian publication Tuttosport, is only open to footballers playing in Europe.
The Kopa Trophy was first awarded in 2018, so is relatively new, especially compared to the Ballon d’Or which dates back to 1956. It is named after the French footballer Raymond Kopa, who came third (behind Stanley Matthews and his own Real Madrid teammate Alfredo Di Stefano) in 1956. Kopa was tied third in 1957, second in 1959 but won the Ballon d’Or in 1958.
Who has Won the Kopa Trophy?
Being a relatively new award, just five footballers have lifted the Kopa Trophy. There was no prize in 2020 due to the global health issues but the winners can be seen below.
|2018||Kylian Mbappe||French||Paris Saint-Germain|
|2019||Matthijs de Ligt||Dutch||Ajax and Juventus|
|2023||Jude Bellingham||English||Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid|
That is a pretty serious list of footballers, with some of the biggest and best clubs in world football represented. Some may be surprised that Erling Haaland has never won the Kopa Trophy. That alone would perhaps not be such a shock given the insane level of the winners, but that the Norwegian hasn’t ever even made the top three, as we shall see, is a little shocking. Perhaps there is something of a bias against out-and-out strikers and in favour of a more creative style of player? That said, there is every chance he would have won in 2020, or at the very least made the podium.
2023: Hey Jude!
Jude Bellingham has been simply outstanding over the last 18 months. He won this award on the strength of his performances up to the end of July 2023, which means his even better output since joining Real Madrid (13 goals in 13 games at the time of writing) was not even taken into account. He looks like becoming a true generational talent and all England fans will be hoping he can finally end the Three Lions’ long wait for a major trophy.
- Jude Bellingham
- Jamal Musiala
2022: Gavi Pips Camavinga
The voting was very tight in 2022, with the top three separated by just 12 votes. Gavi got 59, just ahead of Rennes (and subsequently Real Madrid) midfielder Eduardo Camavinga, who garnered 51 votes. Bellingham was fourth, with Bukayo Saka eighth.
- Jamal Musiala
2021: Pedri Storms Vote
Diminutive midfield ace Pedri stormed to victory, collecting 89 votes thanks to his brilliant performances for Barca and Spain. Bellingham earned his first Kopa top-three, whilst Musiala did likewise, illustrating what a good league for nurturing young talent the Bundesliga is.
- Jude Bellingham
- Jamal Musiala
20019: Rare Triumph for Defender
Like the senior version of this award, the Ballon d’Or itself, the Kopa is rarely won by defenders. In fact, Dutch centre back Matthijs de Ligt is the deepest-playing footballer to make the top three. Now with Bayern, the 43-capped Netherlands international has a pretty impressive club CV at the age of just 24.
- Matthijs de Ligt
- Jadon Sancho
- Joao Felix
2018: Mbappe Fitting First Winner
For an award named after a Frenchman, Mbappe was the perfect first winner of this prize. He thoroughly deserved it too, not least given his role in helping France win the 2018 World Cup. He scored in the final, had been brilliant for his club too and came fourth in the Ballon d’Or. The French flyer scooped a massive 110 points in the vote too, ahead of future Chelsea signing Pulisic who landed just 31.
- Kylian Mbappe
- Christian Pulisic
- Justin Kluivert
Jude Best of the Best
As things stand Bellingham, who was 18th in the 2023 Ballon d’Or pecking order, is the only player to have finished both first and second in the Kopa Trophy vote. His former Bundesliga colleague Musiala is the only player to have three appearances in the top three but with Bellingham’s win in 2023, the Brummie can lay claim to being the Kopa King.
The sky really is the limit for the Real Madrid star, who just before being announced as the winner of the Kop Trophy in 2023 scored two goals in his Clasico debut. That those strikes were a world-class hit from range and an injury-time winner away from home has taken the hype and buzz around him up even further and it should be a joy to watch him develop in Spain – and hopefully lift some silverware in a different shite shirt, that of England!