While debate will rage on between Messi and Ronaldo enthusiasts, or more cringingly 'fanboys', it is the former who is widely regarded as being the finest player of his generation. With a record four Ballon d'Or wins to his name (soon to be five), the most goals and assists in La Liga history and the record for the most goals in both a season and a calendar year ever, Lionel Messi is a force of nature.
For years players were described as the 'next Pele' or the 'new Maradona', but with today's crop, it is the 'new' or 'next' Messi that is most commonly heard. Sometimes the phrase is simply used to mean an excellent and exciting young player who is touted for greatness. On other occasions it is a more detailed comparison based on size, style of play and origin. Several La Masia graduates, for example, have been given the title.
Hundreds, if not thousands of people have been given a nickname that involves some reference to Messi. Often these are very young players, sometimes under the age of 10. This list though is only in reference to those who are professional footballers playing at a decent or notable level. Some have flopped while others have gone on to greatness. Here are the top 15 players who were dubbed 'the new Messi'.
15 Sardar Azmoun - The Iranian Messi
14 Mazinho - The Black Messi
Diminutive forward Mazinho picked up his likening to the Argentine maestro while playing lower league football in Brazil for Oeste in his mid 20s. His impressive form at Oeste earned him a move to Palmeiras. Mazinho scored 7 goals in 17 games for the Sao Paulo outfit in his opening season, but has been loaned out every season since.
13 Osvaldo - Messi of the North East
12 Giannis Fetfatzidis - The Greek Messi
11 Gai Assulin - The New Messi
Israeli winger Gai Assulin was long considered a hot prospect and one of the great hopes of Israeli football. Nicknamed 'the new Messi', while on the books at Barcelona, the club he joined as a 12-year-old, Assulin spent seven years at the club; four graduating from La Masia academy, two with Barcelona B and one in the first team, where he played one game in the Copa del Rey.
10 Walid Soliman - The Egyptian Messi
9 Marco Rojas - The Kiwi Messi
In a country with almost no interest in the game of football, New Zealand have unsurprisingly failed to produce many quality players, with Winston Reid and Chris Wood their most notable exports. Marco Rojas, nicknamed 'the Kiwi Messi' deserves a mention alongside those two more famous names though, as another star of the All Whites national team.
8 Jose Angel Pozo - The Mini Messi
Capable of playing as either an attacking midfielder or as a forward, Jose Angel Pozo began his career at Real Madrid, where he spent five years before joining Manchester City. Highly-regarded at Man City, Pozo played five games for the club and scored 2 goals, but made the decision to leave England in 2015, signing a five-year deal with Almeria.
7 Lee Seung-woo - The Korean Messi
An extremely highly-regarded youngster, Lee Seung-woo is one of the hottest prospects in the La Masia academy at Barcelona right now. The lack of quality players from Korea, and Asia in general, mean the hype around Seung-woo has been further intensified. Barcelona did everything in their power to bring the player to Catalonia in 2011, then aged only 13, from Korean side Incheon United.
6 Ryan Gauld - The Baby Messi
5 Christian Atsu - The African Messi
Chelsea winger Christian Atsu seems to have been considered a future star for a long time now, but the wide man is now 24 and yet to really pin his talents down. His last two loan moves at Everton and Bournemouth have both seen limited game time and ended in failure, with the Ghanaian being recalled to Chelsea this January.
4 Alan Dzagoev - The Russian Messi
3 Juankirk Iturbe - The Paraguayan Messi
Juan Iturbe will try his hand at playing in the Premier League for the second half of this season, having joined Bournemouth on-loan from Roma this January. The 'Paraguayan Messi' or the 'new Messi', both of which have been used to describe Iturbe, are comparisons which came about due to both being talented, diminutive Argentine forwards.
2 Lorenzo Insigne - The Italian Messi
First described as 'the Italian Messi' by the Macedonia captain and former Napoli teammate Goran Pandev, Lorenzo Insigne has lived up to the hype somewhat more than most on this list. Aged 24, he has played more than 200 games already, and almost 250 for Napoli. At the age of 20 he scored 20 goals in 38 games on-loan in Serie B, and is currently having his best season for Napoli, having scored 7 goals in 13 games. An impressive goal scoring record given Insigne is deployed largely on the wing, and sometimes as an attacking midfielder.
1 Mario Gotze - The German Messi
By far the most talented and decorated player on this list, Mario Gotze has even done some things Lionel Messi has not. Touted as a potential star of the future from a young age, unlike may on this list, Gotze has not disappointed. At 17, he made his debut for Borussia Dortmund. At 18, he was called up to the German national team. The same year, he was described by Matthias Sammer as "one of the best talents Germany has ever had." At 19 he was a first team regular in a side that had won the Bundesliga. Then, aged 22, already a two-time Bundesliga winner and a Champions League finalist, came Gotze's greatest moment in the game to date.
Introduced as an 88th minute substitute in the World Cup final between Argentina and Germany, Joachim Löw said to Gotze, "Show the world you are better than Messi and can decide the World Cup." Gotze did decide the World Cup. A 113th minute volley was enough to secure Germany their fourth World Cup success, and Gotze was a baby-faced hero. It was Franz Beckenbauer who first described Gotze as 'the German Messi', and half a decade on, Gotze is certainly the best candidate to be likened to the Argentina superstar.
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