7 players who were branded the ‘next Lionel Messi’ – and what happened next

Following in the footsteps of Lionel Messi is no easy task.

Considered by many as the greatest footballer of all time, players aiming to become the next Messi were fighting a losing battle from the get-go.

The Barcelona forward has dominated the global footballing scene for over a decade and is still performing to such high standards at the age of 33.

But many players have been billed to leave a similar legacy before failing to hit the lofty heights of the Argentinian wizard.

So where have they ended up now? The Daily Star has taken a look at some of the stars below.


A product of Barcelona's world-famous La Masia academy, Bojan rose through the ranks at the Catalan club before making his first-team bow at the age of 17

Notching double figures for goals in his first La Liga campaign in 2007/08, it's clear to see why there was hype surrounding the Spaniard.

But competing with others stars such as Pedro, David Villa and, of course, Messi ensured that Bojan had a battle on his hands to impress.

He moved to Roma in Serie A as his next port of call but was sold back to Barcelona in 2013.

There was to be no fairy tale story upon his return to the club however, as he joined Stoke City one year later.

The now 30-year-old most recently represented Montreal in the MLS but has been a free agent since January.

Ryan Gauld

Referred to as the 'baby Messi' as a 17-year-old, Gauld caught the eye while at Scottish side Dundee United.

His eye-catching performances in Scotland earned him a move to Sporting Lisbon in 2014, believed to be for a fee in the region of £3millon.

Gauld initially represented the club's B team but only made two first-team appearances before a succession of loan moves to fellow Portuguese sides followed.

He spent time at Vitoria, Aves and Farense- making a permanent switch to the latter in July 2019.

The 25-year-old has impressed since joining the Portuguese first division side, scoring 15 times in 39 league appearances.

Alen Halilovic

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  • The Croatian midfielder signed for Barcelona as a 17-year-old, having already shown the qualities to justify a sense of expectation.

    Halilovic had impressed at Dinamo Zagreb prior to signing for the La Lia giants, but was never presented with the opportunity to make his mark at Barcelona.

    He made only one first-team appearance and signed for Hamburg in 2016.

    Loan spells at Las Palmas, Standard Liege and Heerenveen were next on the agenda, though none of these resulted in any great success.

    The 24-year-old is now plying his trade for Birmingham City in the Championship.

    Martin Odegaard

    Martin Odegaard was identified as the next big talent from a very young age.

    Scouted during his days with Stromsgodset in Norway, the midfielder spent time auditioning at some of Europe's biggest clubs ahead of his career-defining move.

    Real Madrid won the race for his signature, fighting off competition from the likes of Liverpool and Bayern Munich.

    But, like other players in this list, his dream La Liga switch did not go according to plan.

    The Norwegian has spent five consecutive seasons out on loan since 2016 to the present day as he aims to show his parent club just what they're missing out on.

    Still only 22, Odegaard has impressed at Arsenal this campaign.

    Ryo Miyaichi

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    Branded as the Japanese Messi, Miyaichi earned himself a move to Arsenal in 2011.

    Declaring his pride at completing this transfer, Arsene Wenger said: "He trialled with us in the summer and has raw ability which has attracted many clubs around the world."

    But Miyaichi's raw ability that Wenger described was not witnessed at the Emirates, having made only seven appearances.

    The pacey forward was handed chances to impress in the Premier League at Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic, but these loans were not made permanent.

    Miyaichi now represents second division German outfit St Pauli.

    Gerard Deulofeu

    Similarly to Bojan, Deulofeu being discussed in the same breath as Messi was largely down to his Barcelona background.

    The Spanish winger made an impressed in Barcelona's B team but was not given the same first-team opportunities as Bojan.

    Deulofeu enjoyed a successful loan spell at Everton during the 2013/14 season, a move that was permanent in 2015.

    He later signed for Watford, where he had moments of brilliance but struggled for consistency.

    The 27-year-old became a Udinese player in January, penning a three-and-a-half-year contract.

    Marko Marin

    Marin had developed a positive reputation in Germany before his big move to Chelsea in 2012.

    Another victim of the Blues' relentless loan policy, Marin was shipped out to Sevilla, Fiorentina, Anderlecht and Trabzonspor having made six Premier League appearances.

    The 32-year-old has since taken a unique career path, which has seen him operate in Greece, Serbia and now Saudi Arabia.

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