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THE NEXT…DIEGO MARADONA

Barcelona’s 18-year-old Lionel Messi is being touted as the next challenger to the title of “new Maradona”, by none other than the great man himself.

“I think he is a wonderful player and he is my successor,” Maradona told respected Argentinian magazine El Grafico.

The Argentinian superkid shares more than a few similarities with Diego; both being small in size but not in stature and both share a fiery edge to their game (Messi was sent off 90 seconds into his senior Argentina debut for fouling his marker!).

But, perhaps the biggest seal of approval comes from his employers, who have managed to stave off interest from the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid and yes, even Chelsea, by slapping a whooping £150-million buyout clause into his contract!

His form this season at club level has helped Barcelona recover from a stuttery start, but the biggest stage approaches and Messi could be the star of next year’s World Cup with national coach Jose Pekerman already singing his praises.

This could finally be the year to end Argentina’s insatiable desire to replace the He of the God-given hands.

Lionel Messi profile