The new Lionel Messi: What happened to 15 players tipped to emulate the Argentine?

Lionel Messi Barcelona

Manchester City are closing in on a deal for 17-year-old wonderkid Dario Sarmiento according to reports. 

The four-time Premier League champions are looking to the future and clearly see something special in Sarmiento. 

According to respected journalist and South American football expert Tim Vickery, a deal is almost done and club president Juan Sebastian Veron is said to be drooling over the reported £17m Estudiantes are set to receive for his signature.  

When asked by talkSPORT about the player City are set to welcome to the Etihad Stadium, Vickery rather reluctantly conceded that there are shades of Lionel Messi about the youngster. 

“It’s a horrible thing to say about anyone, but there’s a mini Messi in him – that’s why City have been following him.”

That Vickery suggested the comparison is “horrible” derives from the weight of the compliment: with the exception of Ronaldo, no player in football can truly compare to the extraterrestrial Argentine. 

But despite the aforementioned caveat, it’s the type of compliment that gets attributed to promising youngsters on a regular basis. 

With City close to welcoming a player who has been mentioned in the same breath as Messi, GIVEMESPORT have taken the apt opportunity to find out what happened to some of the players who’ve been compared to arguably the best footballer to ever grace the turf. 

Take a look at our 15-man list below…

1. Marcus Edwards


As a natural left-footer with a diminutive frame and low centre of gravity, Marcus Edwards was compared to Messi by Mauricio Pochettino back in September 2016, per Sky Sports.

“The qualities – it’s only looks, his body and the way that he plays – remember a little bit from the beginning of Messi.”

The comparison came to dominate his time at Spurs but he never broke into the senior side.

Now 22, Edwards plys his trade for Vitoria Guimaraes in Portugal and has two goals and two assists in 12 Liga Nos outings this season.

2. Patrick Roberts

Manchester City reportedly beat Paris Saint-Germain in the race for Patrick Roberts’ signature back in 2015 as they agreed an £8m transfer with Fulham.

Roberts earned comparisons with Messi during his youth career with the Cottagers, but the 23-year-old has struggled to live up to the hype surrounding his development. 

A return of 18 goals and 26 assists during an 18-month loan spell with Celtic made him a fan favourite at Paradise, but stints with Girona and Norwich City fell flat before his most recent move to Middlesbrough. 

It’s been a similar story at the Riverside Stadium, though, with Roberts playing just 256 minutes of Championship football so far this season. 

3. Marko Marin

Once dubbed the “German Messi”, much was expected of Marko Marin when he moved to Chelsea in 2012. 

His nomadic career took him to Italy, Belgium, Turkey, Greece, Serbia and now Saudi Arabia, where he currently plays for Al-Ahli Jeddah.

4. Ryan Gauld


Scotland’s answer to Messi was the talk of a nation when he emerged at Dundee United and earned a move to Sporting Lisbon aged 18. 

It looked for a long time as if Gauld would fade into insignificance, but he has found his feet in Portugal and is thriving at 25 years of age. 

Now contracted to FC Farense, Gauld has scored four goals and provided four assists in 12 Liga Nos games this season. 

5. Mohamed Salah

Mo Salah is the player on the list who’s come closest to vindicating the lofty early career comparisons. 

His departure from Chelsea led some to believe that he would never blossom into a special player, but those doubters have been proven wrong in the most emphatic fashion.

Salah has played a talismanic role in helping Liverpool to win the Champions League and Premier League titles in recent years, spearheading the club’s development in a manner that bears similarity to some of Messi’s achievements at Barcelona. 

6. Takefusa Kubo

Real Madrid signed Takefusa Kubo, dubbed the Japanese Messi, from FC Tokyo in 2019. 

In regard to the Messi comparisons, Kubo had this to say: “It’s something to be very proud of and I feel honoured but I’m not at that level yet. I want to focus on improving the skills I have now.”

At 19 years old time is on his side to justify the buzz in his home country, but he has failed to make an impact during his season-long loan at Getafe in the 2020/21 campaign. 

7. Martin Odegaard


Another wonderkid snapped up by Los Blancos has been on the scene for quite some time.

Signed by the Spanish giants in January 2015 at just 16 years of age, Martin Odegaard had the physical frame, technical quality and natural left-foot to draw parallels with Messi. 

The multi record breaker is the youngest player to ever feature for Real Madrid having come on as a substitute aged 16 years and 157 days old.

There was plenty of buzz around how the Norway international would develop, and his return of seven goals and nine assists on loan at Real Sociedad in 2019/20 looked to be the watershed season in his career.

Now back at the Santiago Bernabeu, though, he finds himself on the periphery of the first-team by virtue of a combination of injury problems and Zinedine Zidane’s selection policy.

8. Sardar Azmoun

The Iranian Messi boasts a prolific record for club and country. 

With 31 goals in 48 appearances at international level he is the fifth highest goal scorer in his nation’s history, though it’s pertinent to note that his strike rate is significantly superior to the four players who’ve outscored him.

At club level he’s in potent form for Zenit St. Petersburg, notching 11 goals in 15 league outings this season. 

9. Bojan Krkic 


Anyone who played an instalment of the Football Manager franchise during Bojan’s teenage years will have had high hopes for his future. 

Bojan’s slight frame and dribbling style earned him the ill-fated Messi comparison, but he’s now a free agent at 30 years old following an indifferent career that has seen him embark on spells with Stoke City, Ajax and Montreal Impact most recently.

10. Ryo Miyaichi

Once upon a time, long before his compatriot Kubo emerged, Ryo Miyaichi was supposed to be Japan’s Messi-esque star. 

He moved to Arsenal as an 18-year-old in 2011 but failed to settle in England before joining German outfit St. Pauli – whose left-wing cultural and political values have helped them to attract an international cult following – in 2015. 

Miyaichi remains with the Bundesliga 2 outfit more than five years later.

11. Moses Simon

Not only did Moses Simon earn comparisons with Messi, he also managed to be labelled the Nigerian Ronaldo.

No pressure, Moses. 

The 25-year-old hasn’t completely buckled under the weight of the expectation and currently plys his trade with Nantes in Ligue 1. 

Simon was selected in the French outfit’s team of the decade in 2020 having only been at the club for eighteen months. 

12. Alen Halilovic


Alen Halilovic made headlines in the British press in November 2020 by agreeing terms with Birmingham City having been released by AC Milan earlier in the year.

He was once dubbed the Croatian Messi and the next Luka Modric and signed for Barcelona in 2014.

The 24-year-old, however, is now struggling to break into the team at St Andrew’s, playing just 103 minutes of Championship football since moving to the Midlands.

13. Gerard Deulofeu

Gerard Deulofeu is one of few players to openly rue the Messi comparison.

While speaking to Forza Milan (via Daily Mirror), the enchanting dribbler bemoaned the rise in expectation amongst the Barcelona faithful that the myopic analysis evoked.

“In the end, [the comparisons] were more detrimental than beneficial.

“Normally I don’t read newspapers, but that headline I remember well. It created too much expectation among Barcelona fans. There’s only one Messi.”

The Spaniard enjoyed solid stints in the Premier League with Everton and Watford and now plays for Udinese in Serie A, where he has struggled to make a notable impact this season.

14. Stanley Okoro 


When he was breaking through as a youngster, Stanley Okoro spoke out about the lofty comparisons being made about him.

“I don’t mind when people call me Little Messi.

“It’s a pleasant thing to be compared with the best footballer in the world; I don’t have a problem with that.”

The Messi narrative was well wide of the mark and Okoro has spent the last four years back in his native Nigeria playing for Abia Warriors. 

15. Christian Atsu

Christian Atsu was one of the BBC‘s ones to watch ahead of the 2014 World Cup, and that was hardly surprising with a nickname like “the African Messi”.

That the 29-year-old is firmly on the fringes of the first-team squad at Newcastle United, a side widely criticised for their toothless attacking endeavours under Steve Bruce, speaks volumes about how his career has panned out. 

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