An unprecedented run of Ballon D’Or awards earned by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo reveal the domination of these two sublime superstars. No other era of European or international football has witnessed two players command the elite level of the sport in such a convincing fashion. Although Messi has a slight edge in per-game production stats, both players have surprisingly similar numbers throughout their career.
The best Premier League picks often consists of the big four clubs because they have access to world-beating talent, just like the traditional powers of La Liga. Since Ronaldo defected from the EPL to Spain, the top two players in the world battle each other on the regular, including the upcoming El Clasico taking place on Sunday, April 23rd. Over the next few years, Messi and Ronaldo will experience the ravage of aging, and the following nine talents have the ability to step in as heirs to the football throne.
#9 Paul Pogba (Manchester United)
At the young age of 24, Paul Pogba already commands absurd amounts of salary, allowing him to summon his personal chef to teach him lessons on how to boil an egg. When you’re pulling in £300,000 per week, you can afford to get the best in the world to show you how to prepare a basic egg, instead of going to YouTube like normal people.
Pogba’s far from normal on the pitch, which is why he commands such a strong market value. He does everything well, attacking and defending large areas of the pitch with speed, power, and precision. His return to Manchester United has the faithful feeling hopeful he’ll return glory to the storied franchise.
#8 Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Currently the favorite to win his second Premier League player of the season award, this Belgian star had his profile shoot back up to the stratosphere this year through another string of terrific performances. Eden has helped to lead his Chelsea squad back up to the top of the table as the EPL campaign winds down.
He’s on his way to Real Madrid, joining the Spanish squad after a blockbuster deal with a reported worth of more than £100 million. These numbers are similar to Ronaldo and Bale, showing that Hazard has earned a spot among the most talented football players in the world, with Ballon D’Or potential.
#7 Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid)
Perhaps the most logical heir to Messi and Ronaldo, Antoine Griezmann finished third in the race for the 2016 Ballon D’Or, earning 198 points – more than double Luis Suarez in the voting process. Similar to Lionel, Griezmann has a lower center of balance than most forwards, facilitating greater agility when creating on the attack.
After spending a few fantastic years with Atletico Madrid, rumors have been heating up on the transfer market. Speculation runs rampant that Antoine will land in the Premier League soon, or at the very least move to a team where his considerable talents will receive greater support.
#6 Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund)
Those familiar with the Bundesliga and German soccer in general know that Marco Reus has been extremely unlucky on the international scene, dealing with injuries that have prevented him from participating in the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA Euro Cup. In fact, during qualifications for the 2014 World Cup, he netted five strikes and assisted on three in six matches.
Since 2012, he’s been with Borussia Dortmund, helping his side to strong seasons on the table and in various major club tournaments in Europe. If he manages to stay healthy for the next Euro Cup and World Cup, the rest of the world might get to witness the genius of this versatile midfielder and forward.
#5 Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
Despite playing in the shadow of Ronaldo and other Real Madrid luminaries, Gareth Bale still attracted enough attention to finish sixth in Ballon d’Or voting for 2016. The greatest Welsh footballer there ever was, his speed, strength and ability to finish have created problems for teams already attempting to mark Cristiano.
If anything, playing with Ronaldo detracts a bit from his incredible skill set, as the Portuguese star tends to absorb the most attention and possession. Put simply, Bale is one of the fastest, most dangerous players in the world, and there’s a good chance he’ll earn greater consideration for a Ballon D’Or as Lionel and Cristiano age.
#4 Kylian Mbappe (Monaco)
After a superb year in which the 18-year-old phenom scored 19 goals in 32 caps with Monaco, Kylian Mbappe will be receiving ridiculous offers worth dozens of millions of dollars. Teams will throw countless dollars at Mbappe over the upcoming week – and with good reason.
He’s actually outperforming Lionel Messi in terms of overall attacking statistics, earning a goal or assist at a greater rate than the Argentinian superstar. In fact, he’s outperforming all players from European major leagues. Only 18 years old, Manchester United brass have already mentioned that they want to transform Kylian into the heir for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
#3 Neymar (FC Barcelona)
Only 25, Neymar’s already one of the best in the world, and his best years could be arriving over the next couple of seasons. Neymar has been world famous for a while now because of his incredible skills and his designation as the next great Brazilian football star. He was unlucky to be part of the 2014 Brazilian World Cup team that was run out of its own home country, absorbing a serious injury from a dangerous challenge in the process.
He managed to rehab fairly quickly, joining Suarez and Messi as the trio of football luminaries in FC Barcelona. He actually finished top five in voting for the Ballon D’Or, slightly ahead of Gareth Bale. Perhaps more remarkable, he’s been named the most marketable athlete in the world twice, and was ranked as the fourth most famous athlete in the world by ESPN.
#2 Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City)
Jesus learned his love and skill for football on the streets of Brazil, before being recruited by top amateur clubs. After scoring 37 goals in 22 games for Palmeiras during a state under-17 competition, multiple domestic and international clubs started to vie for his services. Eventually, Manchester City won the rights to claim him as their own.
He rewarded Man City with a blazing hot start, scoring three times in his first four appearance while assisting a pair of goals. He became the first player in Man City history to debut his first cap with a goal and an assist. Unfortunately, everyone will have to wait a year to witness the full blossoming of his talent after he broke a metatarsal bone in his right foot.
#1 Paulo Dybala (Juventus Turin)
A fellow Argentinian and sub-5’10” footballer, Paulo Dybala is most likely to take over Messi’s legacy as the leader of Argentinian football. Referred to as “La Joya”, Dybala utilizes supreme dribbling and control skills, allowing him to dictate the pace according to the speed that suits his teammates best.
Despite his diminutive frame, his ability to anticipate plays and accelerate into key spaces on the pitch allows Dybala to win headers with surprising frequency, adding to his suite of finishing abilities. He toils in the Italian league at the moment, but could end up with one of the major EPL or La Liga behemoths. As one of the potential heirs to Messi, he’s linked to all the most influential clubs in Europe.