Every soccer fan on the planet who’s been watching the sport for the past decade has been blessed. We’ve been lucky enough to live through an era when the two greatest players of all time have been playing, and it’s been our privilege to see them on the pitch. There have never been equals to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the history of the sport, and we may never see their like again. They’re both once-in-a-lifetime players, and yet both of them came along at the exact same time.
Messi is the less glamorous of the two, but arguably the more technically competent. He’s spent his whole career at Barcelona, and led his team to a period of dominance over their old rivals Real Madrid. He’s broken every record it’s possible to break in terms of goalscoring, and scored some of the most spectacular goals we’ve ever seen. If he had ever left Barcelona during his prime years, he’d have likely gone for double the current world transfer record. He’s been a force of nature.
Ronaldo has the higher profile and has had a more well-rounded career. His good looks have made him a poster boy for the sport – it’s not a coincidence that his likeness was used in the ‘Striker Goes Wild’ mobile slots game. The teams that he’s played for have even used him like a online slots; they pour money into him until he delivers them big wins. There’s no mobile slots jackpot in the world that could deliver the kind of winnings he’s delivered for those teams though – whether at Manchester United, Real Madrid or Juventus, having Ronaldo in their side has been a near-guarantee of success.
Sadly, though, time catches up on all of us. Both men are now in their mid-30s, and before too long, we’ll be waving them a fond farewell. That will leave a vacancy for the title of ‘best player in the world,’ and it will be up to someone else to fill it. While nobody on the scene at the moment could claim to be their equal in terms of skill, there are some players who have a better claim than others on being the next in line. These are the players who we believe could be in the frame.
The most surprising thing about Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling is that he’s still only 24 years old. It feels like he’s been around forever, but that’s only because he broke into the Liverpool team as a very young teenager. He got a lot of criticism for ditching Liverpool in favor of City, but the move has paid off for him. He’s now a multiple-time Premier League winner, and he’s still improving all the time. He always had pace, tricks, and goals, but under the management of Pep Guardiola, he’s blossomed into a complete player. His goal-to-game ratio has gone through the roof, and when he’s running at full pace with the ball at his feet, there are very few defenders who can stop him. Barcelona legend Xavi has identified him as someone who could become the world’s best, and when Xavi speaks, football should listen.
Sterling may be young, but Frenchman Kylian Mbappe has him beaten in that respect. He’s only 20, and he was still a teenager when he won the World Cup with his native France last year. Becoming the most expensive teenager in history when he moved from Monaco to Paris Saint Germain should have piled pressure onto his shoulders to perform, but it would seem that the pressure has just driven him forward. The PSG team is unbeatable in France – and probably would be without him – but Mbappe is the star of the show in a team that contains Neymar. During the past two seasons, he’s scored more goals than he’s played games – a feat that only Messi and Ronaldo have proved capable of before. The scariest thing about Mbappe from an opposition point of view is that he’s nowhere near the finished article yet – it will be four or five years before he reaches his peak.
Although he’s still a teenager, João Félix has as big a right to be in the conversation for ‘next big thing’ as Mbappe or Sterling. When he signed for Atletico Madrid from Benfica in the summer, the transfer fee was $145m. That’s the third-largest fee in history, and an incredible outlay for a player who, at that point, had only just broken into the Portuguese national team. None of that matters – he’s already begun to prove that he’s worth the money, and it may yet turn out to be the case that the natural heir to Cristiano Ronaldo is someone from Ronaldo’s own country. Working with Ronaldo at international level is bound to have a positive effect on Felix’s prospects, and he’ll be looking to learn all he can from the master in the limited time they have together. With his low center of gravity, the way he moves with the ball could also be compared to Messi or even Diego Maradona. Once he’s fully matured, Felix might turn out to be a combination of Messi and Ronaldo – and that would make him impossible to defend against. He’s not on the level of Sterling or Mbappe yet, but barring a disastrous injury or downturn in form, he’ll get there.
What do you think? Have we missed an obvious candidate for the crown? We considered including Real Madrid’s Vinícius Júnior or Borussia Dortmund’s Jaden Sancho in place of Felix, but we feel that the Atletico Madrid man just shades the advantage at the moment. Perhaps there are other candidates out there too – you could make a strong case that Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk is currently the best player in the world, although such plaudits aren’t often given to defensive players. If you asked us for our opinion again twelve months from now, we might give you a very different answer. We’d love to hear your thoughts, and you know where to put them – directly below this article in the comments!