Have we finally found Messi and Ronaldo’s successors?
By Ciarán McLoughlin
It was quite poetic seeing the image of Kylian Mbappe running off in celebration as he scored one of his three goals, becoming the first opposition player to score a hat trick at the Nou Camp, with Lionel Messi watching on. A day later, Erling Haaland followed this up by scoring two goals as his Borussia Dortmund side edged Sevilla, on the same night Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus were shocked by Porto. Three weeks later and it was confirmed that neither Messi or Ronaldo would be playing in the Champions League Quarter Finals for the first time since 2005, while Mbappe and Haaland would be marching on. As significant as this was in this new debate, ultimately do these new talents have what it takes to be the heirs to the thrones?
Mbappe is 22, while Haaland is 20 and despite the comparisons between the pair only really coming up now, the pair have been on the scene producing great things for a while now.
Mbappe really broke through during the 2016-2017 season, when his Monaco side pulled out the stops to win the league and make it all the way to the UEFA Champions League Semi-Finals. Throughout that season he managed 26 goals in 44 games, something quite remarkable for someone still in their teens and secured him a move to PSG.
Since that move, he has certainly justified his world record transfer fee, winning Ligue 1 player of the season and back-to-back Golden Boot’s as well as a number of domestic trophies. His talents have been awarded with a staggering number of individual awards including Golden Boy, 4th in the Ballon d’Or, best young player at the 2018 World Cup which he played a key role in securing France the title. Most I’m sure would be happy to end that career with what he has achieved already, but Mbappe has the drive as we know, to take this further.
Haaland is two years Mbappe’s younger, but individually has still achieved a lot, including the most recent Golden Boy and has won honours at club level, even if it is not quite as much as Mbappe’s haul. Since 2017, he has been with three clubs scoring tonnes of goals, already recording 30 goals in 32 appearances for Dortmund including a 23 minute hat trick on his debut. He has suitors across Europe, with a number in the Premier League rearing for his signature.
Clearly the two have the stats and the big moments to back themselves as World Class talents, but what makes a rivalry great is the direct contests they have with each other and with Ronaldo and Messi both playing in La Liga together for nine years, there was a number of times they faced off against one another. Whether or not Haaland and Mbappe will both have the chance to meet each other in that way, their individual rivalry will no doubt grow as both look to be better than the other, with Haaland even admitting that seeing Mbappe’s hat trick vs Barcelona had inspired him to score as many goals as he could in his Champions League game against Sevilla.
For many years pundits and fans alike have debated away about which of Messi and Ronaldo were the better, but in a way were forgetting to just appreciate the sheer talent of the pair. Naturally the same will no doubt happen with Mbappe and Haaland, but while this competition between the two will be great to watch, people need to step back for a moment and realise just how lucky they are to witness such great players.
The question though is if they can match that excellence of Messi and Ronaldo and produce that same individual rivalry from single handily winning honours for the themselves and their respected teams. Although Messi and Ronaldo were already serial winners by Mbappe and Haaland’s age’s, it can still be said that the youngsters have the time and the talent to catch up and who knows just how good they can be.
We can’t disregard Messi and Ronaldo, anyone would be stupid to deny that they are, even at the ages of 33 and 36 respectively, not the best in the game still. Even while Barcelona have not looked their usual self, Messi is still capable of great individual displays as is Ronaldo. But in terms of emerging talents there are no players it feels other than Mbappe and Haaland who can step into their boots.