6 players tipped to be ‘next Lionel Messi’ and where they are now

To be dubbed “the next Lionel Messi” is undoubtedly one of the most pressuring tags a young footballer can labelled with.

Over the years numerous players around the world have caught the eye of an over-eager scout or passionate fan and thus been rashly compared to the Paris Saint-Germain superstar.

But none have come anywhere close to Barcelona and Argentina’s record goal-scorer and appearance-maker – nor have they won six Ballon d’Ors.

Daily Star Sport looks at six of the most memorable talents who have been compared to the Argentine maestro over the years, with each achieving varied levels of success in their career.

Bojan Krkic

Barcelona wonderkid Bojan was dubbed the next Messi by Football Mercato in 2006 before Messi even became the player we recognise today.

The Argentine was only two years into his career before another La Masia prodigy appeared on the scene, scoring 10 La Liga goals in his first season.

Bojan went on to win three league titles in a row with the Catalans but struggled to recapture that unplayable form, never again reaching double figures for goals.

He had short spells at Roma, AC Milan and Ajax before spending five seasons at Stoke City.

Now 31, he is currently playing for Japanese side Vissel Kobe without ever fulfilling his promise.

Alen Halilovic

A more recent Barcelona academy graduate to fall short of achieving Messi’s colossal achievements is Alen Halilovic.

The diminutive Croatian earned comparisons with his outstanding technique and full mop of hair.

He eventually ended up at Dinamo Zagreb due to his lack of adjustment to the physical side of the game before stints at Hamburg, Las Palmas, AC Milan, Standard Liege, Heerenveen and Birmingham City, embracing life as a journeyman before 25.

Halilovic is now on his next journey, having signed a one-year-deal with Reading in August 2021.

Sardar Azmoun

Whether Sardar Azmoun comparisons to Messi were tongue-in-cheek brags by Iranian fans or the genuine opinion of scouts, we can’t be sure.

But there is no denying the striker is a serious player in his own right, having tallied 37 goals in 58 appearances for Iran before the age of 27.

He is consistently one of the best players in the Russian League and has netted 58 goals in 97 games at Zenit.

Perhaps the only criticism of the forward is that he has not tried to prove himself in one of Europe’s tougher leagues.

Takefusa Kubo

Kubo is yet another La Masia winger whose ability has earned comparisons with the magician himself.

He was forced to leave La Masia after Barcelona were issued a transfer ban and return to Japan, where he became the J.League’s youngest ever scorer.

The 20-year-old was then snapped up by rivals Real Madrid last season where he has since been loaned out to Mallorca, Villarreal and Getafe.

While Messi’s legendary standing in the game may be a step too far for the youngster, there is no reason why he cannot have an outstanding career in his own right with plenty more years ahead.

Mohamed Salah

Do you think Salah is currently better than Messi? Let us know in the comments section.

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Before becoming arguably the best player in the world, Mohamed Salah was a little-known promising young winger at Swiss side Basel.

No-one could have predicted what a phenomenon he would go on to become after leaving Roma for Liverpool in 2017.

Salah, now 29, is the only player on our list to be compared to the Argentinian as an experienced pro rather than a young prospect, first drawing comparisons after his sensational 44-goal campaign in the 2017/18 season.

The Egyptian has since broken numerous club records for the Reds while his outstanding dribbling, playmaking and finishing reminds us of a rampant Messi in his prime.

Still, Salah has six more Ballon d’Or trophies to win before he can be uttered in the same breath with any conviction, though he stands a chance at winning the prestigious award this year.

Ansu Fati

Teenager Ansu Fati is currently the jewel in Barcelona’s crown and the player being tipped to emulate the club legend.

Fati, 18, took La Liga by storm by scoring eight in his first season as a mere boy – the same return as Messi’s second season at Barcelona.

He suffered a devastating injury after an impressive start to the 2020/21 campaign but has seamlessly returned to the first-team this season with two goals and several more electrifying performances.

Now, with Messi no longer at the club and the side in need of a talisman, Fati has the potential to fill his boots, though it is far easier said than done.

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