On Thursday, Italian newspaper Tuttosport revealed the 40-man shortlist for the Golden Boy, an award handed out by that publication to the under-21 player adjudged to have been the most impressive over the previous calendar year. The voting is carried out by a 30-member panel of sports journalists from around Europe, and previous winners of the award include Cesc Fabregas, Alexandre Pato, Mario Balotelli and ex-Atletico Madrid forward Sergio Agüero.
This year, Atletico have one nominee for the prize: center back Lucas Hernandez, whose standing as a huge prospect was borne out of some tremendous performances towards the end last season.
The 20-year-old has made one appearance this season - as a substitute in Sunday’s 1-0 win over Deportivo - but played in 16 games for Atletico in 2015-16. Lucas was crucial in helping Atleti get to a second Champions League final in three years, particularly during the second leg of the quarterfinal against Barcelona. The Frenchman, who came up through the academy, was rewarded for his strong run of form over the summer with a new contract to 2020.
Despite starting his career as a left back, it seems that Lucas will be a central defender moving forward - which is fine with his younger brother Theo, who is starting at left back for Alaves on loan and figures to have a future playing alongside Lucas at Atletico.
There is stiff competition for the Golden Boy award; Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford and Bayern Munich’s Renato Sanches are just a few of the names also shortlisted for the prize. Lucas’ odds may be long, but being in the conversation as one of Europe’s best young players testifies to the progress he’s made under the guidance of Diego Simeone and his staff.