Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will not be around forever – could we be talking about Martin Odegaard, Kai Havertz and Takefusa Kubo in the same awed tones in years to come?
Ronaldo is 35 and Messi is 32, meaning a drop off in form in the near future is inevitable. While the heir to Ronaldo looks clear, who is the heir to Messi?
It has been widely believed for years that Kylian Mbappe will step into Ronaldo’s shoes. At 20, Kylian Mbappe is already arguably a better player than Ronaldo, having scored 18 goals in 20 Ligue 1 outings this season before football was suspended.
However, the question of who will fill the void left by Messi’s swan-song is much more difficult to answer.
Here are three men who could have what it takes to replace the legend that is Lionel.
It stands to reason that the ‘next Messi’ should be a diminutive, left-footed right winger who can drift into the middle of the park. The player who is the best fit for this model is 21-year-old Norwegian playmaker Martin Ødegaard.
Though it is unlikely Ødegaard will ever reach the heights of Messi, he still has the potential to become a truly fantastic player. Standing at 5 foot 10 inches, the Norwegian is three inches taller than Messi but he still has many similar attributes. Ødegaard has spent this season on loan at Real Sociedad from Real Madrid where, according to Who Scored, he has averaged 2.3 key passes per 90 and 2.4 dribbles, making him one of the best performers in the league in both areas.
Many would have expected Ødegaard to be flying high with Real Madrid these days having made his Strømsgodset debut seven years ago at the age of just 14. He is a versatile operator able to drop between the channels, like a David Silva type player, or to drift in from the right much like Messi himself. But some critics of Odegaard have argued that the ship has sailed on him dining at the top table of world football with his trajectory dropping somewhat since breaking into first-team football so early.
Nonetheless, Ødegaard is still very young and expected to be a regular fixture in the Real Madrid first team next season and beyond.
Another much younger Real Madrid prospect also out on loan who could draw comparisons to Messi is Japanese starlet Takefusa Kubo. Kubo actually spent time in the famed La Masia academy before Barcelona were found to have violated rules on signing overseas youngsters. The young Kubo was then forced to return to his native Japan.
He made 19 appearances for FC Tokyo before both Barcelona and Real Madrid came in for a matured Kubo. It was Real Madrid who won the race and he has spent this season on loan at Real Mallorca.
Kubo has three goals and two assists from 24 La Liga appearances this season which is not particularly impressive. He takes 1.2 shots per 90 minutes with half of them coming from outside of the box meaning shot selection is something he needs to work on.
Despite this, Kubo is only 18 and managing to hold his own in one of the world’s best leagues and that’s encouraging.
Kai Havertz of Bayer Leverkusen is another left-footed forward but he by no means fits the Messi mould.
Standing at six foot two inches, there is no way that Havertz can be considered diminutive.
A big move away from Bayer Leverkusen is only a matter of time and Liverpool are hovering, according to the likes of Talksport.
The German attacking midfielder has made 39 appearances in all competitions, yielding 11 goals and seven assists at the age of only 20.
He has been averaging a very impressive 2.1 key passes per game and 2 dribbles, according to Whoscored.com. He has also been taking 1.6 shots per 90. Only a quarter of them come from outside the box, showing a clear maturity in Havertz’s shot selection.
Whether Havertz could truly be considered the heir to Messi is debatable due to his playing style and stature but he will certainly be one of the best players in the world over the next decade.
Of course, the next generation of talent could be nothing like Messi and Ronaldo. Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho are both top players already but Sancho in particular is not a Messi type player, being a traditional winger.
Haaland can be compared to Ronaldo but is not on a level with Mbappe yet to be truly described as the heir. There could also be even younger players who haven’t had their first team breaks like Dortmund’s 15-year-old sensation Yousoffa Moukoko who has scored goals for fun at various youth levels for the Bundesliga side.
Mbappe and Odegaard will probably go on to become the closest thing the next generation has to Messi and Ronaldo. However, the two greatest of this generation are special talents and we are unlikely to see anybody surpass their talent for many years to come.
Some would argue that it took 50 years for a player to match the talent of Pelé and the chances of somebody becoming better than Messi within a decade are very thin.
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