A look at five contenders who can succeed Messi and Ronaldo as the world’s finest.
Such has been the dominance of these two footballing legends that one of the greater arguments over these last 9 years has been the identity of the third best player in the world.
Various players have staked claims to this funniest of thrones but none has delivered with the consistency required to get to the level of the aforementioned duo and make the Dynamic Duo into the Terrific Trident.
Fernando Torres, Arjen Robben, Luis Suarez, Franck Ribery, Neymar, Sergio Aguero, Andres Iniesta are some of the world-class names that have struggled in the shadows of the great duo.
Nature abhors a vacuum and some of the lesser (in comparison to Cristiano and Leo of course) are beginning to stake their claims to the Iron Throne. Here, we will take a look at five of them.
The overwhelming favourite to break the Messi/Ronaldo duopoly and talisman of the Seleção, Neymar has been thought about as the saviour of Brazilian football ever since his early days at Santos & the dynamic guy is surely living up to these expectations.
With his silky touches, close control, mazy dribbling skills and infectious personality, the wonder boy from Mogi das Cruzes has everything in his locker to become the best player in the world.
After his very controversial move to FC Barcelona which led to the imprisonment of former club president Sandro Rosell and the tax dodging cases in Spanish & Brazilian courts, Neymar’s very effective partnership with Messi and Luis “El Pistolero” Suarez helped disabuse the notion that he was a Youtube stat padder who could not hack it at the biggest stages.
His world record move to PSG is the hallmark of a player who believes in his own abilities and wants to be front & centre stage doing his own thing.
2) Kylian Mbappé (PSG and France)
The searing pace, amazing dribbles and unerring finishing. No, it’s not Thierry Henry but rather the 18-year-old tyro; Kylian Lottin Mbappé that has taken French and European football by storm.
The youngster’s ascent to the pinnacle of football has been nothing short of rapid and it seems to be a journey that is set to culminate in being crowned the world’s premier footballer.
Mbappé has demonstrated the skills and touch of a markedly older player and has already shown that these skills can be transferred to the national setup with the forward already being capped 6 times by France.
Amazingly, this is just his second full season as a professional footballer and there is a sense around the young man that his ceiling will approach that of Messi and Ronaldo; childhood prodigies who have blossomed to star men.
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3) Paulo Dybala (Juventus and Argentina)
For a very long time, Argentine football was searching for the natural successor to Diego Maradona. Pablo Aimar, Ariel Ortega and so many diminutive, technical players suffered under the burden of being compared to Armando until the arrival of Leo on the stage.
Now, the Albiceleste may have already found the successor to Leo, even before the maestro retires, in Paulo Dybala.
The left-footed baby-faced assassin may not have the explosive pace of Messi but he has been blessed with a sweet left foot combined with superb finishing and a brain that sees things 10 seconds quicker than other players on the pitch.
Dybala has settled into his role in a star-studded Juve team with aplomb and his performances have helped to negate any feelings of loss occasioned by the departures of Carlos Tevez and Paul Pogba.
Like other players on this list, Francisco “Isco” Román Alarcón Suárez has been compared to a star player way before he became the star he is today. Isco has been compared to Nou Camp legend Andres Iniesta from his youth setup days at Valencia.
After his arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2013, Isco meet a team full of class and initially struggled to nail down a spot. After being underused by a succession of Real Madrid coaches; Carlo Ancelotti, Rafa Benitez and Zinedine Zidane (initially), the native Andalusian has embraced the challenge of playing for the world’s biggest club and is now one of the first names on the team sheet.
A firm fan favourite, Isco has everything in his locker to emulate the great No 10s in recent history; Zidane, Del Piero, Totti and surpass these legends.
He has become a key player in the Spanish national team setup and will be looking to stake his claim to the seat of his idol, Messi by adding to his already impressive trophy haul.
5) Eden Hazard (Chelsea and Belgium)
One of the standout performers in a league that is big on money but short on genuine game-changing star quality, Hazard will rightly believe that he has what it takes to ascend to the glided thrones that are the Ballon d’Or and The Best awards.
Notable for his close control skills, dribbling ability and unselfish play, Eden has become the focal point for Premier League champions Chelsea and an unsellable asset who is central to the club’s hope of truly becoming a member of European football’s aristocracy.
His move to Chelsea has cemented his reputation as a big-name player with the club resisting any attempt by clubs like Real Madrid to steal away their prize asset.
In terms of having a low centre of gravity and generally unselfish play, he is perhaps the closest player to Messi and has consistently expressed his admiration for the Argentine and his desire to emulate his achievements.