Lionel Messi turns 33 this summer and though he has not slowed down yet, even the greatest player of all-time cannot keep going forever.
The Argentine has a dizzying amount of honours to his name including ten La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, six Ballon d’Ors and an Olympic gold medal as he has played out a fabulous career.
While he still has some gas left in the tank, Barcelona have been searching for a few years now for Messi’s successor but as of yet, no one has been able to live up to the impossible standards of Barca’s number ten.
But that doesn’t mean they won’t keep trying.
Let’s take a look at seven of the players Barcelona may sign to try replace their greatest ever player.
The original Messi replacement, Neymar was anointed Messi’s successor when he arrived in Catalunya back in 2013 and spent four seasons playing alongside the Argentine as well as Luiz Suarez as part of Barcelona’s feared ‘MSN’ front three.
But the Brazilian grew tired living in Messi’s shadow and shocked the whole world when, in 2017, he forced through a world record €222million move to Paris Saint-Germain.
He left to establish himself as one of the greats but the move to France has not quite worked out for Neymar so far. While he has helped PSG to dominate a relatively weak French league, they have not made the same ripples in Europe, with this season the first time they have made it past the second round of the Champions League since Neymar arrived.
Despite the manner of his exit, Barca have left the door open for Neymar to return to Camp Nou with reports sporadically linking him with a move back.
Still, there remain question marks about Neymar’s ability to take up the mantle as the world’s greatest since his move to PSG. His star has fallen greatly since arriving in the French capital and he has gone from third in the Ballon d’Or voting in 2017 to 12th in 2018 before failing to make final 30 at all in 2019.
Part of the problem is Neymar may not even be the best player at PSG, let alone in the world, with the arrival of Kylian Mbappe…
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If they are to look to Paris to find Messi’s replacement, there is every chance it will be Kylian Mbappe, not Neymar, who Barcelona will be after.
The Frenchman burst onto the scene as a teenager, helping fire Monaco to an unlikely Ligue 1 title and taking them to the semi-finals of the Champions League before making the move to PSG at the same time as Neymar.
Still just 21 years old, Mbappe has thrived in Paris, outscoring Neymar by more than double last season and he leads the French side’s scoring charts again in the current campaign.
Additionally, Mbappe was a key man in France’s World Cup victory in 2018, scoring four goals – including one in the final – and picking up the Best Young Player award for his displays.
While Barca have left the door open for Neymar to return, the Catalans may find a cruel joy in signing his PSG teammate as Messi’s new heir instead.
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With the way Jurgen Klopp’s side have dominated the Premier League this season after reaching back to back Champions League finals in the previous two campaigns, it would be no surprise to see Barcelona cast their eye towards Liverpool in search of a replacement for Messi.
Should it land on Mohamed Salah, it would be very difficult for the Egyptian to resist the Catalans’ call in spite of all that he has achieved on Merseyside.
Signing Salah would be a literal change of pace from Messi as the 27-year-old’s blistering speed is one of his finest assets.
But he is not simply a sprinter, as Salah has proven himself to be one of the deadliest finishers in the game, bagging a Premier League high 22 goals last season as well as an impressive 16 so far in the current campaign.
Though he would certainly cost a lot, Barcelona have shown they are not deterred by large transfer fees in the past but the major problem for Salah may come in his age.
With the winger turning 28 this summer, the La Liga giants may decide they do not wish to spend so much on a Messi replacement who will soon need replacing himself.
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It’s a similar story for Sadio Mane, who has gone from strength to strength since joining Liverpool from Southampton in 2016.
The Senegalese winger has developed into one of the most terrifying opponents in the world for opposing defenders with his pace on the ball only matched by the speed of his thought as he now sees the field far more clearly than he used to.
Mane tied Salah for 22 league goals last season and trails him by just two this season and is now starting to match the Egyptian’s output in assists, setting up seven goals for his teammates in the current campaign.
But just like Salah, Mane may be deemed too old for Barca. He turns 28 in a fortnight and it is impossible to say how long he can hold out before his pace starts to wane. For both Liverpool stars, it feels like if a move does not happen this summer then it will never happen at all.
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One man who certainly has youth on his side is Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho, who has taken the Bundesliga by storm for the past two seasons.
The Englishman just turned 20 this week but has already established himself as one of the top players in Germany, if not the whole of Europe, as he shows a willingness to work from either wing.
With 14 goals and 15 assists in 23 Bundesliga appearances – yes, you read that right – so far this season Sancho is putting up Messi-esque numbers already.
The youngster has inevitably been linked with a move back to English with a whole host of Premier League sides interested in his services but you have to imagine that he would answer if Barcelona came knocking.
At such a young age, he still has much to learn and it would give Messi the chance to really help shape Sancho as his own protégé.
The bidding war for his services will be intense but if he continues his current trajectory, Sancho will be worth every penny.
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Kevin de Bruyne
How do you replace the irreplaceable? The simple answer is you don’t.
Instead of pursuing the impossible task of finding a new winger who can do everything Messi can, Barcelona could instead focus on simply finding a different kind of creative outlet and building their team around him that way.
And who better to be that man than Kevin de Bruyne? The Belgian has already shown his class in the Premier League and knows the Barcelona way after studying under Pep Guardiola.
While it might be hard to imagine him leaving Manchester City, De Bruyne may seek a new adventure abroad if City’s two-year European ban is upheld.
ALthough he is closing in on his thirties, the 28-year-old’s style may allow him to keep playing for many years to come and he would no doubt thrive in La Liga.
Perhaps the answer to the question is the one staring Barcelona right in the face. Though it may not be as sexy as a nine-figure transfer deal, maybe Messi’s replacement is already at the Camp Nou.
In his limited gametime with the senior team, Ansu Fati has already shown he has tremendous potential as an attacking star.
The 17-year-old has five goals from just 776 minutes of La Liga and Champions League action this season – good for a goal every 155 minutes or so.
While that’s not quite at the level of the great Lionel Messi yet, Fati is still just a teenager learning his craft. He has plenty of time to keep improving if Barcelona give him the space to do so.
So maybe the best thing the Spanish side can do this summer to replace Messi is, in fact, nothing and just make sure Fati has the support he needs to take on more responsibilities in the first team next season.
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