Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated the world of football for more than a decade, breaking new ground, setting bars ever higher and becoming the greatest of all time.
But their time is coming to an end, leaving a void at the top of the game to be filled by someone else. Here’s a look at seven players on a mission to replace Messi and Ronaldo as the best footballer in the world.
Neymar has been in the shadow of Messi and Ronaldo since he first arrived in Europe in 2013, with the Brazilian always expected to assume the mantle.
That pair have shown such extraordinary longevity that it hasn’t happened just yet. And while Neymar is due to turn 29 early next year, the light still hasn’t faded for him.
Neymar hasn’t been helped by injuries since making the world record switch to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017, but he scored almost a goal per game in France and showed glimpses of his very best to help PSG reach a first ever Champions League final in 2020.
Paul Pogba can be mistaken as lazy at times, but his quality is so effortless that the Manchester United star, once the most expensive player in the world, is often doing far more than it looks.
Pogba is starting to relax and settle now that a promising team is being built around him at Old Trafford. The Frenchman was carrying a broken club on his back not all that long ago, finishing as top scorer from midfield in 2018/19 and making into the PFA Team of the Year.
Even at 27, he still has time to become the best in the world. What’s more, the experience he has now built up from eight seasons at top clubs will help him do that.
Kevin De Bruyne
Kevin De Bruyne’s vision and passing are unrivalled in the world game at this moment in time, with the Belgian maestro able to see things and cut open defences in ways others simply cannot.
Although he won’t allow himself to be bullied, De Bruyne is no great physical threat. Instead, it is his quality on the ball, whether it be in open play or from a set-piece situation, that sets him apart.
He creates so many chances for his teammates, it is no wonder that Manchester City score as many goals as they do or that Belgium are top of the FIFA World Rankings. The 2019/20 even saw De Bruyne equal the Premier League’s single season assist record with 20.
Even though he recently turned 32, Robert Lewandowski is in the form of his life, having just gone over 50 club goals in a season for the first time. That comes off the back of four consecutive campaigns in which the Pole managed at least 40 in all competitions.
Lewandowski has been a prolific goalscorer since his teenage years in Poland’s lower leagues, but there is something about him that seems to have clicked even more into place recently.
It can sometimes be the case that strikers hit their very best form after their 30th birthday, like Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Aritz Aduriz. That also appears to now be the case for Lewandowski, even though goals weren’t exactly hard to come by anyway.
The 2020 Ballon d’Or would have been his had it not been cancelled.
Raheem Sterling has stepped his game up to another level in each of the last three seasons, to the point where he scored 30 goals in all competitions as a winger in 2019/20.
Once an infuriating and inconsistent young talent, Sterling has completed the transition into lethal finisher and game-changer now that he has reached his mid-20s.
In theory, the England international is yet to hit his peak and should only keep getting better over the next couple of seasons. He already has a wealth of trophies collected in recent years and has developed a strong mentality and driven personality in light of off-field media targeting.
Can a full-back truly ever be the best player in the world? Probably, if Trent Alexander-Arnold carries on his current career trajectory.
The Liverpool star is already the best right-back in the word and is already putting up incredible numbers when it comes to assists, and even goals from his position.
Longer-term, the 21-year-old, who doesn’t particularly excel at defending, may even have it in him to move further up the pitch in a similar move to Gareth Bale a decade ago. It is also not unusual for full-backs to double as central midfielders, so a deep-lying play-maker role might fit into his future as well, for which he would be well suited thanks to his range of passing and obvious vision.
21 years of age, a World Cup winner, a four-time league champion, Champions League finalist, and with four consecutive seasons of 20 or more goals – 30 or more in the last two – Kylian Mbappe is the biggest young phenomenon world football has seen since Ronaldo in the mid-1990s.
Since the age of 17, the youngster has had the clinical edge many emerging talents often lack until much later in their development. He has everything at his disposal to be best in the world for the next decade.
In time, Mbappe will add different things to his game, although when he already appears to be the finished product the prospect of him getting better is frightening.
This article is brought to you by Tenet, in cinemas now. Check out the trailer below: