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

The 2010s were dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi with their brilliance. No-one was even similar.

Yet Juventus can’t go on forever, with Ronaldo, 34, and Barcelona’s Messi, 32.

Here, writers and analysts from BBC Sport discuss which players might emerge as new global game leaders over the next ten years.

You can have your say and vote below-plus hear further debate on Thursday, January 9th, on BBC Radio 5 Live’s European Football podcast. You can have your say, and vote below-plus hear new discussion on Thursday, January 9th on BBC Radio 5 Live’s European Football podcast.

Kylian Mbappe (St-Germain in Paris and France)

Birthdate: December 20, 1998

Position: Forward

Phil McNulty, chief football writer of BBC Sport:

Mbappe is only 21, already a 2018 World Cup winner in Russia with France, and quite literally the most prominent young star in football.

Blessed with blistering pace and the mind of a natural goal scorer, it is difficult to see how the next decade will be able to distract him from true grandeur.

He is the natural successor to the throne that Messi and Ronaldo will eventually leave behind, with all the most significant prizes in his sights.

Mbappe is currently leading their search for the elusive title of the Champions League in Paris St-Germain.

But when he leaves-perhaps next summer-for what will undoubtedly be a world record fee in front of Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane line, his true worth will be illustrated.

Soccer writer Kristof Terreur:

Mbappe’s got to appear top of the list because he’s up there. Even now, even at his young age, he’s one of the best players in the world.

He delivered at the 2018 World Cup and was domestically dominant in France for PSG. If, in the latter stages of the Champions League, he will perform at the same standard and add the Euros to his honors list, he will be similar to his first Ballon d’Or.

The universe is at his feet already. Only a diva mentality will keep him from taking anything. He has everything to take over Messi and Ronaldo’s billboards: pace, strength, charm, and the right amount of cheek.

Micah Richards, former defender of the City of Manchester:

When Messi and Ronaldo are over, Mbappe will be the one to win the biggest prizes of the game. I don’t think he’ll get as many goals as either of them because they’re such astonishing numbers, but he’s the best young player I’ve ever seen. He’s the closest thing that I saw at his peak at Thierry Henry. It’s a statement at his age.

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

Joao Felix (Madrid and Portugal atletico)

Birthdate: November 10, 1999

Position: Forward

Soccer blogger Guillem Balague from Spain:

Atletico Madrid, now 20 years old, invested a £ 113 m club-record signing Joao Felix from Benfica in July. This was the third-highest transfer fee in the country, paid for a man who had only played 43 games in the first team.

His start at Atletico was hindered by injury and was not played in his most successful role. Still, the demanding manager of Atleti, Diego Simeone, has now begun to allow him more freedom of speech.

He’s on his way to becoming the offensive trump card for a team that often finds it hard to score given their defensive strengths.

Phil McNulty, chief sports columnist of BBC Sport:

Felix is being groomed as the natural successor to Ronaldo in Portugal, finishing the year with the prestigious Golden Boy award in Dubai.

A young player, Atletico, faced fierce competition last summer to win his signature, and, under Simeone’s guidance, he can only develop. Unlike Mbappe, for years to come, Felix has the talent to decorate the most significant club and country stages.

Jadon Sancho (Dortmund & England in Borussia)

Birthdate: March 25, 2000

Position: Winger

Jermaine Jenas, the ex-Tottenham midfielder:

Jadon Sancho must be here because, for Dortmund, he’s doing ridiculous things. I watched tons of him, and there he just killed him-goals, assists, his faith through the roof.

What must he do next? Okay, he’s still reliable, doing it each week. Typically it would help if you pointed your finger at scoring more goals for young players like him, but he’s great in front of goal, and he’s got his assists as well. There’s already his end product.

Maybe he wasn’t able to do it this year in some of the bigger games for Dortmund, and that might be the question mark over him. In his consistency, he’s also had a little wobble, and that side of things needs to be tightened up, but apart from that, it looks like an individual player.

Ansu Fati (U21 from Barcelona and Spain)

Birthdate: October 31, 2002

Position: Winger

Soccer writer Guillem Balague from Spain:

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

A Guinea Bissau immigrant’s son, he arrived with his mother and brother in Seville in Spain. When his father was six years old, come looking for work earlier. An apparent natural talent from the beginning, he was signed at just ten years of age by Barcelona for their La Masia Academy. He was catapulted into the first team this season without even playing for the reserves.

He is now the youngest ever senior team goalscorer in Barcelona at the age of 17, The youngest player ever in the same game to score and assist. The most inexperienced to represent the Champions League squad.

He bears an odd similarity to a particular Lionel Messi’s style and achievements in the same period.

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


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