The time is running out for Messi and Ronaldo’s careers, and Qatar may be their final appearance on soccer’s grandest stage.
The World Cup has not yet left Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo ready to say farewell.
With that in mind, consideration automatically shifts to the next generation and life after the two men who have dominated the sport for the previous 15 years, winning a combined 12 Ballon d’Or honors for best player of the year and nine Champions League medals.
To their hordes of supporters, each of them is the best of all time, leaving large shoes for the others to fill.
Imagine replacing Messi and Ronaldo if it has been hard enough to separate them.
However, the World Cup provides the ideal stage for a new generation of aspiring superstars to demonstrate their abilities as life—and sport—moves on.
As the obvious successor to the great two, one name sticks out above all others: Kylian Mbappe.
Even though Mbappe, a striker for France, is only 23 years old and has yet to win the Ballon d’Or or the Champions League, he has already won the World Cup and is the tournament’s top scorer with five goals.
He already possesses the trophy Messi and Ronaldo yearn for, and in a week or so, he might have two.
Mbappe might still be able to play in two or three more World Cups, and with nine goals through two games, he is getting close to Miroslav Klose’s record of 16 at the finals.
Qatar feels like a handing of the baton to the Paris Saint-Germain striker, who possesses the same traits that have distinguished Messi and Ronaldo for so long: breathtaking footwork, devastating pace, and exquisite finishing.
However, Mbappe may need a rival more than anything to push him to achieve more in order to equal their powers of longevity.
Without the encouragement of the other, would Messi or Ronaldo have accomplished such feats of excellence?
Erling Haaland, the Manchester City great striker whose native Norway didn’t make the World Cup, is currently Mbappe’s most obvious rival.
He is a different potential with pure power and goals instead of Mbappe’s unique skills or subtlety. Haaland, though, has a chance to compete with him in regards to European medals and scoring if it comes down to numbers.
Mbappe has faced less overt opposition during the World Cup.
Jude Bellingham of England is a different type of player, but because of his commanding midfield skills, his nation has advanced to the quarterfinals and will face defending champion France there.
Additionally, Dutch attacker Cody Gakpo scored three goals and improved his reputation since being linked to a summer transfer to Manchester United. He still has work to do to be regarded as one of the top players, though, since he plays club football for PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch division.
Joao Felix of Portugal has yet to reach his full potential at Atletico Madrid, but he has displayed flashes of the talent that led to his identification as a future star when he first broke through at Benfica. He possesses the unique, game-changing traits that will set him apart from the competition, and the opportunity to walk out of Ronaldo’s shadow for his nation could aid in his growth.
Goncalo Ramos, a teammate of Felix’s from Portugal, has recently come to attention by scoring three goals against Switzerland in round of 16 while starting in place of Ronaldo.
Julian Alvarez of Argentina appears to be a born goal scorer.
Jamal Musiala of Germany is seen as the main hope for his nation, while Gavi and Pedri of Spain’s midfield are evoking memories of the nation’s all-conquering duo of Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
However, none can match Mbappe in terms of effect, influence, and star appeal.
Naturally, Messi and Ronaldo have more to do.
And who could doubt that either of them would write another triumphant chapter in their lives during this World Cup?