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Where are they now? The fate of 15 players dubbed ‘the next Lionel Messi’

Lionel Messi will probably go down as the greatest player in history once he retires.

Granted he hasn’t done it on a wet Tuesday night in Stoke, but the Barcelona maestro has continually defied logic for over a decade now.

Unfortunately for anyone who has ever so slightly resembled the Argentine or his style of play, that’s quite big shoes to fill.

A host of players have been dubbed ‘the next Messi’ or earmarked as hybrids with contrasting conclusions down the years.

Here’s what happened to 15 of them:

Juan Iturbe

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Iturbe earned the label just by virtue of being Argentine and left-footed. Made a name for himself in Italy with Verona and Roma but failed to displace either Josh King or Junior Stanislas during a six-month spell at Bournemouth.

Erik Lamela

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Iturbe is almost a carbon copy of Lamela in that they’re international compatriots and both played for Roma. Lamela endured a torrid time initially at Tottenham but has really endeared himself to the Spurs faithful in recent seasons.

Ryan Gauld

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One of many to come through Dundee United’s prestigious academy, the hopes of Scotland have been pinned on Gauld’s tiny shoulders. He made a rather obscure move to Sporting Lisbon in 2014, where he has made just two senior appearances.

Christian Atsu

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Where hasn’t Atsu played in his short career? Portugal, England, Holland and Spain have all seen flashes of the Ghanaian – and he’s only 24. He’s one of many who are destined to always be on Chelsea’s books forever.

Mohamed Salah

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Another player who, amazingly, Chelsea bought on a whim, Salah’s style of play has drawn obvious comparisons with Messi before. His dribbling is mesmeric and he’s got an eye for goal too. He’s currently at Serie A side Roma.

Alan Dzagoev

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The joint top scorer at Euro 2012, Dzagoev has unfortunately been more Andrey Arshavin than Messi since. Still only 26, he’s never likely to hit the dizzy heights if he stays at CSKA Moscow in Russia.

Jose Angel Pozo

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Pozo was identified as one of Manchester City’s development side’s main poster boys, but he was allowed to leave Manchester for Almeria in 2015

Maxi Romero

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He’s born in 1999 which is scary enough. Romero is the latest player to be burdened with the ‘next Messi’ tag and has been heavily linked with Arsenal over the last year.

Lorenzo Insigne

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Diminutive and stylish, Insigne’s reputation has enhanced steadily over the last few seasons. He became the first player to notch 10 goals and 10 assists in Serie A last campaign.

Patrick Roberts

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England’s answer to Messi and possibly the closest to the Argentine in appearance, Roberts clinched a £9m move to Manchester City last summer. He’s currently starring on loan at Celtic in Scotland.

Alen Halilovic

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Signed from Dinamo Zagreb in 2014, Halilovic was seen as the most natural heir to Messi at Barcelona. A subsequent sale to Hamburg in 2016 though has raised questions.

Paulo Dybala

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The most likely to reach Messi’s stratospheric levels of ability from our list, Dybala is already a prime target for Barcelona should their current number 10 ever choose to up sticks. Juventus’ key player – and he’s only 22.

Martin Odegaard

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He might play for Real Madrid but Odegaard is far more Messi than Cristiano Ronaldo. Possibly the hottest teenage prospect on the planet, the Norwegian 17-year-old’s potential has no ceiling.

Bojan Krkic

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Unfortunate to resemble Messi in almost every aspect of his game and appearance, Bojan’s career really stagnated at Barcelona in the shadow of the great Argentine. Now rebuilding his career after a change of scenery at Stoke(alona).

Pablo Piatti

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Another Argentine, Piatti was set for the big time at Valencia a few years ago before his development really stagnated.