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Cristiano Ronaldo & Lionel Messi: Who might replace stars of global game in the 2020s?


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Cristiano Ronaldo & Lionel Messi: Who might replace stars of global game in the 2020s?

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi dominated the 2010s with their brilliance. No-one even came close.But Juventus forward Ronaldo, 34, and Barcelona’s Messi, 32, can’t go on forever. Who will take their place?Here, BBC Sport’s writers and pundits consider which players might emerge as new leaders of the global game over the next 10 years to…

Cristiano Ronaldo & Lionel Messi: Who might replace stars of global game in the 2020s?

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Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi dominated the 2010s with their brilliance. No-one even came close.

But Juventus forward Ronaldo, 34, and Barcelona’s Messi, 32, can’t go on forever. Who will take their place?

Here, BBC Sport’s writers and pundits consider which players might emerge as new leaders of the global game over the next 10 years to come.

You can have your say and vote below — plus hear more debate on BBC Radio 5 Live’s European Football podcast on Thursday, 9 January.

Kylian Mbappe (Paris St-Germain & France)

Mbappe has a transfer market value of about £215m according to the CIES football observatory

Date of birth: 20 December 1998

Position: Forward

BBC Sport chief football writer Phil McNulty:

Mbappe is just 21, already a World Cup winner with France in Russia in 2018 and quite simply football’s greatest young star.

Blessed with blistering pace and a natural goalscorer’s eye, it is impossible to see how he can be diverted away from true greatness in the next decade.

He is the natural heir to the crown that will eventually be left behind by Messi and Ronaldo, with all the biggest prizes sure to be in his sights.

Mbappe is currently at Paris St-Germain, spearheading their quest for the elusive Champions League crown.

But his true worth will be demonstrated when he leaves — possibly next summer — for what will surely be a world record fee, with Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane at the front of the queue.

European football writer Kristof Terreur:

Mbappe has to feature top of the list, because basically he’s up there already. He’s already one of the best players in the world right now, even at his young age.

He delivered at the World Cup in 2018, and has been dominant domestically for PSG in France. If he can perform to the same levels in the latter stages of the Champions League and add the Euros to his list of honours, he will be close to his first Ballon d’Or.

The world is already at his feet. Only a diva attitude can stop him from taking it all. He has everything to take over the billboards from Messi and Ronaldo: speed, skill, charisma and the right amount of cheek.

Ex-Manchester City defender Micah Richards:

Once Messi and Ronaldo are finished, Mbappe is going to be the one collecting the game’s biggest prizes. I don’t think he will get as many goals as either of them, because their numbers are just staggering, but he’s the best young player I have ever seen. He’s the closest thing I have seen to Thierry Henry at his peak. At his age, that is some statement.

When Sergio Aguero leaves City, and they need two strikers, I would have Gabriel Jesus and Mbappe — even if he costs £150m, he’d be worth it.

Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid & Portugal)

Felix won this year’s Golden Boy trophy ahead of Jadon Sancho and Kai Havertz

Date of birth: 10 November 1999

Position: Forward

Spanish football writer Guillem Balague:

Now 20 years old, Atletico Madrid spent a club record £113m to sign Joao Felix from Benfica in July. It was the world’s third highest transfer fee, paid for a then-teenager who had played just 43 first-team games.

His start at Atletico was hampered by injury and not being played in his most effective role, but the demanding Atleti manager Diego Simeone has now started to give him more freedom to express himself.

He is on his way to undoubtedly becoming the offensive trump card for a side who despite their defensive strengths frequently find it difficult to score.

BBC Sport chief football writer Phil McNulty:

Felix is already being groomed in Portugal as the natural successor to Ronaldo, ending the year by being awarded the prestigious Golden Boy award in Dubai.

A gifted attacker, Atletico fought off fierce competition to secure his signature last summer and under the guidance of Simeone, he can only get better. Like Mbappe, Felix has the talent to decorate the biggest stages for club and country for years to come.

Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund & England)

Sancho left Manchester City for Dortmund in a move worth a reported £8m in August 2017

Date of birth: 25 March 2000

Position: Winger

Ex-Tottenham midfielder Jermaine Jenas:

Jadon Sancho has to be in here because he is doing ridiculous things for Dortmund. I have been watching loads of him and he has just been killing it over there — goals, assists, his confidence through the roof.

What does he need to do next? Well, he is consistent already, doing it every week. You would usually point the finger at scoring more goals with young players like him but he is cool in front of goal and he has got his assists too. His end product is already there.

Maybe in some of the bigger games for Dortmund he has not quite been able to do it this year and that might be the question mark over him. He’s also had a little wobble with his discipline, so he probably needs to tighten up with that side of things, but apart from that he looks like a special player.

Ansu Fati (Barcelona & Spain U21)

Fati made his senior debut for Barca in August

Date of birth: 31 October 2002

Position: Winger

Spanish football writer Guillem Balague:

Lightning fast, a superb dribbler of the ball, a natural finisher with a superb vision and an understanding of the game that belies his youth, the story of the 17-year-old Ansu Fati could have been penned by a Hollywood screenwriter.

The son of an immigrant from Guinea Bissau, he arrived in Spain in Seville with his mother and brother at the age of six after his father had arrived earlier looking for work. An obvious natural talent from the start, he was signed by Barcelona for their La Masia academy at just 10 years of age and was this season catapulted into the first team without even having played for the reserves.

Now aged 17, he is Barcelona’s youngest ever senior team goalscorer, youngest player ever to score and assist in the same game and youngest to represent the club in the Champions League.

He bears an uncanny resemblance to the style and performances shown by a certain Lionel Messi at the same age.

He also has a new €170m release clause in his current contract, which is set to rise to €400m when he signs full professional terms.

Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool & England)

Alexander-Arnold was one of seven Liverpool players on the 30-man Ballon d’Or shortlist in 2019

Date of birth: 7 October 1998

Position: Right-back

BBC Sport chief football writer Phil McNulty:

The attackers provide the glamour, but in 21-year-old Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool have the perfect dual purpose player who is efficient in defence but devastating in attack, where his trademark delivery from wide positions has been a rich source of goals.

Alexander-Arnold has already won the Champions League with Liverpool and it is only a matter of time before he fully establishes himself as England’s first-choice right-back, with the potential to be one of the stars of Euro 2020.

Indeed, such is Alexander-Arnold’s range of passing, creation and the ability to get a goal that it would be no surprise if he developed into a world-class midfielder at some point in the future.

Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen & Germany)

Havertz scored 17goals in the Bundesliga last season

Date of birth: 11 June 1999

Position: Midfielder

European football writer Kristof Terreur:

Havertz is one of those talents they haven’t seen for a while in Germany. A special player, excellent between the lines with a high football IQ — he often does the right thing. At the age of 20 he has already played more than 100 games in the Bundesliga, and has all types of passes in him.

Leverkusen’s tall central midfielder hasn’t quite had the end product this season, but for some players it comes more regularly at a later age — look for instance at Kevin de Bruyne. Havertz can become one of the best midfield generals in the near future, and a move to a top club beckons, with Bayern Munich sniffing around.

Phil Foden (Manchester City & England U21)

Foden became the youngest English player to start a Champions League match in December 2017 aged 17 years and 192 days

Date of birth: 28 May 2000

Position: Midfield

Ex-Manchester City defender Micah Richards:

I have to include Phil in this. Talent-wise he is probably the best around in the Premier League. The only question I have about him is if he went to a lesser team, would he look as good?

Hopefully we won’t have to find out. He needs to play more to develop fully but also has to be patient. If he’s not playing 25+ Premier League games by the time he is 21 or 22 then fair enough, he should go. But right now I think for his development he is with the best manager, and Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Bernardo Silva are all players he can learn from.

The longer Foden stays at City, he will continue to play the Pep Guardiola style of play and I think he will be among the best in the world.

Rodrygo (Real Madrid & Brazil)

Madrid agreed a £40m deal for Rodrygo with Santos in June 2018 before he joined the Spanish club in July 2019

Date of birth: 9 January 2001

Position: Winger

European football writer Kristof Terreur:

It happened fast. On his Real Madrid debut against Osasuna in September, Rodrygo scored 94 seconds after coming on as a sub. He played one more game for Madrid’s reserves afterwards, but then Zinedine Zidane promoted him to the first squad. This is a player with too much quality to keep under wraps.

With two good feet, Rodrygo scores unpredictable goals. A hat-trick against Galatasaray in the Champions League group stage led to even more excitement and expectation. The pressure is already kicking off, but the boy hasn’t changed so far.

He is a quiet, shy young guy, who shows a lot of quality in training too. He is a player that seems open to learn from his peers — and in the Real Madrid dressing room they rate him very highly.

Mason Greenwood (Manchester United & England U21)

Greenwood’s style of play has attracted comparisons with Robin van Persie

Date of birth: 1 October 2001

Position: Forward

Ex-Manchester City defender Micah Richards:

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It already seems as if he’s a little bit different. When exciting young players come on the scene they are usually very raw. Mason is not like that. Already he seems so composed. He’s got an eye for goal, he looks fearless and like he’s meant for the big time.

When people ask me about the best young players I’ve seen, I’d always say Wayne Rooney. Those sort of players are extra special, one in a million.

Greenwood hasn’t quite shown himself to be in that class yet, but for his age he is showing a lot of maturity and I really think he can push on, as long as he keeps his focus.

Ferran Torres (Valencia and Spain U21)

Torres has been at Valencia since the age of six

Date of birth: 29 February 2000

Position: Winger

Spanish football writer Guillem Balague:

A golden nugget mined from the Valencia academy, so confident in his own ability was Torres that he previously informed his Spanish club he planned to seek his fortunes elsewhere. Fortunately for Valencia they managed to persuade him to stay and at just 19 he has already made more than 50 first-team appearances — a club record for a player of his age.

He has established himself as certainly the most important youngster at Valencia, and many believe the most vital player of any age currently at the Mestalla. A wide player in 4-4-2 formation but probably better coming inside between the lines, he is a natural goalscorer, is quick, has great vision and is only going to get better.

Dele Alli (Tottenham and England)

Alli signed for Spurs as an 18-year-old in February 2015 joining from MK Dons for an initial £5m

Date of birth: 11 April 1996

Position: Midfielder

Ex-Tottenham midfielder Jermaine Jenas:

I’ve got a feeling that with Jose Mourinho as his manager, Dele Alli can go to that completely next level.

Mourinho will bring a different side that will catapult him to a different stratosphere — like what he did with Frank Lampard at Chelsea.

That mentality shift from just being a player that entertains, has fun and scores the odd goal, it’s a transformation that can be triggered by something as simple as having the right manager.

Dele has that now in Mourinho. Jose got has record of taking players there, because his demands are far greater, and that’s what Dele needs.

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