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'.
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15 Sardar Azmoun - The Iranian Messi
A talented sportsman, Sardar Azmoun had the choice of football or volleyball as a teenager, capable of representing his country at junior level in either sport, but turned his back on volleyball in favor of football, despite the former being the more popular sport in Iran. He was signed by Rubin Kazan at the age of 19 and has since been likened to both Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Azmoun is currently on-loan at FC Rostov who are having a magnificent season, sitting second in the Russian Premier League, seven places ahead of his parent club Rubin Kazan. Azmoun also has 7 goals from 14 caps for the Iranian national team, and is still only 21 years of age.
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.
Currently on-loan at his first club, Oeste, he has played four games for them this season. Aged 28 and playing in Brazil's Serie B, it would appear unlikely that Mazinho will ever replicate the achievements of Leo Messi.
13 Osvaldo - Messi of the North East
Osvaldo Lourenço Filho, better known simply as 'Osvaldo', like Mazinho, is also a short, 28-year-old Brazilian forward. Like Mazinho too, comparisons to Barcelona's world class forward seem a little far-fetched. Osvaldo, who has two caps for Brazil to his name, both having come in 2013, has spent his club career divided between playing in Brazil, Dubai and Saudi Arabia. His longest spell came at Sao Paulo, and the forward is now back in Brazil, turning out for Fluminese.
12 Giannis Fetfatzidis - The Greek Messi
Standing at 5-foot-5, Giannis Fetfatzidis is the same size as the four-time Ballon d'Or winner, and drew comparisons to the Argentine due to his dribbling ability, mazy runs and vision. Having started his career at Olympiakos, Fetfatzidis joined Genoa in 2013 and Al-Ahli in 2015. His move from Serie A to Saudi Arabia may be seen as a lack of ambition by some, and certainly a career path the real Lionel Messi would not have taken at the tender age of 25. Fetfatzidis made his debut for the Greek national team at the age of 20, and has since won 25 caps for his country, scoring twice.
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.
Since then, Assulin has played for Manchester City, Brighton, Racing Santander, Hercules and currently Mallorca. Assulin has a solitary Israel cap to his name, which he won eight years ago, aged 16, representative of how he has failed to reach the potential he showed the best part of a decade ago.
10 Walid Soliman - The Egyptian Messi
Somewhat unusually on a list of 'new Messis' or 'next Messis', Walid Soliman is actually older than Lionel Messi. Aged 31, Soliman is three years the Argentine's senior, with whom his abilities have been likened to by the Egyptian press. He has played for four clubs to date, in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, namely PetroJet, Ahli Jeddah, ENPPI and currently Al-Ahly. Soliman has also been nicknamed 'the Snake', as well as 'the Egyptian Messi', due to his dribbling skills and feints. He has won 24 caps for Egypt to date, and scored once, against Qatar in 2010.
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.
Having moved to Australia as a teenager to play football, Rojas impressed, and joined Stuttgart of the Bundesliga in 2013 and is currently on-loan at FC Thunn of the Swiss Super League. He has already won 22 caps for New Zealand and scored once, having made his debut at 19.
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.
Since joining the Segunda Division side, Pozo has played seven games and scored once. Pozo represented Spain at U-16, U-17, U-18 and U-19 level, but now aged 19, he will have to step it up soon if he is to become a regular in the highly competitive Spanish national team.
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.
His signing was one of the major reasons behind Barcelona's recent transfer embargo, and now into 2016, Seung-woo's suspension will finally come to an end. Aged 17, Seung-woo is likely to start training with the Barcelona first team this year and is already playing for South Korea U-20s.
6 Ryan Gauld - The Baby Messi
Ryan Gauld was long considered a potential star of the future at Dundee United, where he made his debut at the age of 17, and started playing for Scotland's U-21's at 18. Comparisons with Lionel Messi began in the Scottish press when Gauld inspired Dundee United to reach the final of the 2014 Scottish Cup Final, whilst still a teenager, earning him the nickname 'the Baby Messi', due to his abilities on the ball, twinned with his short stature and baby face. He joined Portuguese giants Sporting in 2014, where he has played 41 times for the second team and 5 times for the first team. Gould turned 20 last month, he has been called up to Scotland's first team but is yet to win his first cap.
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.
The former Porto man was nicknamed 'the African Messi' after showing such early promise, and having already won 42 caps for Ghana, having played in a World Cup and signed by Chelsea, Atsu clearly has considerable talent, but he needs to start impressing at club level if he is ever going to reach the potential he showed earlier in his career.
4 Alan Dzagoev - The Russian Messi
An unusual player, Alan Dzagoev is undoubtedly very talented, but like so many players on this list, he has perhaps not quite lived up to the hype which surrounded him as a youngster. He signed for CSKA Moscow and made his Russia debut at the age of just 18, immediately becoming a first team regular. However, his best season came at the age of 22, when he scored 10 goals in 30 games for CSKA and was Russia's stand-out player at Euro 2012, being joint top scorer alongside Mario Mandzukic, Mario Gomez, Mario Balotelli, Cristiano Ronaldo and Fernando Torres with 3 goals. 'The Russian Messi' hasn't really come on since then, but is still a CSKA regular and aged 25 he has won 48 caps for Russia.
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.
Aged 22, Iturbe was capped by Paraguay at the age of just 16, but he has since switched his allegiances to Argentina. He has 56 appearances and 5 goals to his name at Roma, and will be looking to push on in the Premier League as part of Bournemouth's bid for survival between now and May.
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.
His impressive recent form has seen a recall to the Italian national team, with whom he made his debut at the age of 21. At five feet and four inches, Insigne is even shorter than Messi himself, and whilst the Argentine had achieved rather more than Insigne has at the age of 24, he is still carving out a very impressive career for himself. Should he continue his 2015-16 form he could well make a big-money move to one of Europe's top sides.
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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