The next Lionel Messi: What's happened to 13 players tipped to follow in his footsteps

FC Barcelona v Real Madrid CF  - La Liga

Will there ever be another Lionel Messi?

We’ve been told countless times over the years that, yes, the ‘next Messi’ has been found.

It’s never worked out like that, though.

The simple fact is that the Argentinian has played at a level that is near-impossible to match.

In the modern era, only Cristiano Ronaldo can match his goals tally. And then there are the assists, the playmaking and the skills, all of which combine to make Messi arguably the greatest of all-time.

FC Barcelona v Real Sociedad  - La Liga

And yet we continuously hear that a scout has discovered the next version of the six-time Ballon d’Or winner.

Yeah right.

We’ve taken a look at 13 players who have been labelled the ‘next Messi’ to see how they’ve fared.

There have been some success stories but most have failed to reach the heights once expected of them.

Bojan Krkic

In 2006, the website Foot Mercato published an article titled: ‘Bojan Krkić: le futur Messi?’

The Spanish forward was just 16 at the time and a bright prospect in Barcelona’s academy. He scored more than 900 goals for their youth team.

Barcelona v Deportivo La Coruna - La Liga

But those high expectations affected Bojan and he never became a superstar, having short spells with Roma, AC Milan and Ajax before joining Stoke City permanently in 2014.

"In the end, I know my qualities and I know I'm not Messi,” Bojan, who now plays in Major League Soccer with Montreal Impact, told The Guardian last year.

“I’m Bojan. If people want to say 'This guy was not the new Messi', okay, yeah I was not the new Messi."

New England Revolution v Montreal Impact

Mohamed Salah

The biggest success of the lot.

In 2013, ESPN reported that Liverpool were keen on signing ‘the Egyptian Lionel Messi’ - Mohamed Salah.

The Reds had to wait four years to get him but it’s been well worth the wait.

Liverpool v West Ham United - Premier League

Salah was a flop at Chelsea but he revived his career in Italy with Roma, scoring 29 goals in 65 league games for the Serie A side.

That prompted Liverpool to spend £36.9 million to sign him in 2017 and he’s been a revelation at Anfield, establishing himself as a world-class player under Jurgen Klopp.

The PFA Player of the Year in 2017/18, Salah’s style and goalscoring has only increased those comparisons to Messi.

Liverpool FC v Arsenal FC - Premier League

Martin Odegaard

When Real Madrid signed Norwegian Martin Odegaard as a 16-year-old in 2015, the BBC wrote a story with the headline: ‘Martin Odegaard: 16-year-old “next Messi” signed by Real Madrid’.

Initially it looked as though those comparisons were way off the mark. He starred in Real Madrid’s youth team but couldn’t make the first-team and was loaned out.

But Odegaard’s development with Vitesse in 2018/19 and Real Sociedad in 2019/20 has been mightily impressive and he’s now set to become an important player at the Bernabeu.

He’ll be Messi’s rival next season.

Real Sociedad v Mirandes - Copa del Rey: Semi-Final 1st Leg

Alan Dzagoev

Alan Dzagoev hit the headlines as a 21-year-old at the 2012 European Championship, where he was the joint-top scorer.

The Russian has never tested his skills outside of Russia, though, playing for CSKA Moscow since 2008.

He’s been linked with Real Madrid and Chelsea but has remained loyal to CSKA.

Russia v Croatia: Quarter Final - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Ryo Miyaichi

Arsene Wenger was delighted to sign Japanese winger Ryo Miyaichi in 2010 and a decent loan spell with Feyenoord in 2011 saw him branded the ‘Japanese Messi’ and ‘Ryodinho’.

Disappointing loans at Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic suggested that Miyaichi couldn’t cut it in England, though, and he signed for German side FC St. Pauli in 2015, where he remains to this day.

Kitchee FC v Arsenal FC

Iker Muniain

Unlike others, comparisons to Messi never fazed Spanish midfielder Iker Muniain.

“It was excessive. People are swayed by euphoria," Muniain told Radio Nervion in 2016, per FourFourTwo.

"It has never affected me. I've always known who I am."

The comparisons came as Muniain shone as a teenager for Athletic Bilbao and he’s forged a decent career with the Basque club, making more than 400 appearances in total for them.

Muniain, who has been linked with moves to Liverpool and Man United, was made captain of his boyhood club in 2019.

RCD Espanyol v Athletic Club  - La Liga

Ryan Gauld

Scottish attacking midfielder Ryan Gauld made headlines during his time with Dundee United, and joined Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon in 2014 for £3 million.

Gauld was placing in Sporting’s reserve team but never became a regular in the senior squad, making just five first-team appearances in total.

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He was loaned out to Vitoria de Setubal, Aves, Farense and Hibernian before joining Farense permanently in 2019.

On those comparisons to Messi, Gauld said in 2019, per the Daily Record: “When I would go out for a coffee, sitting in a shopping centre, nobody would even know my name - but they’d be saying: ‘Mini Messi, Mini Messi…’

“Nobody even knew my name was Ryan Gauld. And that kind of stuff isn’t nice.

“I didn’t enjoy it and it’s not something I welcomed."

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Alen Halilovic

Croatian Alen Halilovic became a teammate of Messi’s in 2014 but the step up to Barcelona from Dinamo Zagreb was too much for the attacking midfielder.

The mop of hair helped fuel the comparisons to Messi but Halilovic lasted just two years in Spain, failing to make a single league appearance for Barcelona, before being sold to Hamburger SV in 2016.

A loan spell with Las Palmas followed, and AC Milan were convinced to sign the Croatia international in 2018.

He’s currently out on loan with SC Heerenveen. Still only 23, there’s enough time for Halilovic to get back on track.

FC Barcelona v SSC Napoli - Preseason Friendly

Lee Seung-woo

Barcelona legend Xavi expected big things from South Korean winger Lee Seung-woo, who joined their La Masia academy in 2011.

“In one or two years he will be in the first team,” Xavi predicted.

He was wrong. Lee made just one outing for Barcelona B and was sold to Italian side Hellas Verona in 2017.

Lee netted just two goals for Hellas before joining Belgian club Sint-Truiden in 2019.

South Korea World Cup Team Sending Off Ceremony

Marko Marin

Marko Marin’s impressive performances in Germany for Werder Bremen prompted Chelsea to sign him in 2012 but things didn’t work out for him at Stamford Bridge and a series of loan spells swiftly followed.

His nomadic career has seen him play in Germany, England, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Turkey, Greece and Serbia.

Marin left Red Star Belgrade in 2019, joining Al-Ahli Saudi FC in the Saudi Professional League.

Red Star Belgrade v Paris Saint-Germain - UEFA Champions League Group C

Giannis Fetfatzidis

Greek winger Giannis Fetfatzidis has some similar traits to Messi. He’s small and possesses sublime skills on the ball.

After winning three titles with Olympiacos, Fetfatzidis landed in the Serie A with Genoa.

He started well in Italy and attracted interest from England, but his form declined and he left for Al-Ahli in 2015.

The 29-year-old is now back in Greece with Aris.

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Jose Angel Pozo

Another player who was unhappy with being compared to Messi.

"This is crazy. Messi is the best player in the world and I have only played one game for the first team,” Pozo said after marking his Man City debut with a goal in 2014.

Pozo was just 18 at the time but six years on, he finds himself playing in the second tier of Spanish football with Rayo Vallecano.

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Amir Sayoud

In 2009, Egyptian side Al Ahly turned down the change to sign Hibernian striker Abdessallam Benjelloun because they thought they had the new Messi on their hands.

“We have a young Algerian player called Amir Sayoud and we consider him the young Messi,” Al Ahly board member Khaled Mortagey told the BBC.

Those comparisons have now ceased. Search Sayoud’s name on the internet and you’ll find a video of him taking one of the worst penalties ever.

Sayoud currently plays in Algeria for CR Belouizdad.

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If this article proves anything it’s that the majority of the time, we were sold a lie.

There hasn’t been another Messi. Players have shared similar traits and attributes but nobody has been able to package them all together to succeed at the highest level.

But major props to Salah, who has come the closest of the lot. The Egyptian is a recognised superstar and is a delight to watch.

However, the next time you read an article claiming the ‘next Messi’ has been found, take it with a pinch of salt.

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