Who will fill Messi and Ronaldo’s shoes as the “GOATS” exit European football?


The departures of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo from European football are no longer breaking news.

Both football players are largely regarded as the best guys to ever play the beautiful leather game.

Ronaldo left the shoes of European football shortly before the 2022 World Cup, having had his contract terminated by Manchester United, while on June 7, a shock reverberated through the football world as Lionel Messi announced he would leave Europe.

PSG confirmed that their superstar will not be renewing his deal at Parc des Princes at the end of the season, but would be moving to Inter Miami, while Ronaldo had since moved to Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia.

This means that the 2023-24 season is the first since 2002, when neither Messi nor Ronaldo will be playing in Europe and it feels definitively like the end of an era.

From 2009 to 2018, the two played against each other at least twice per season during El Clásico matches but also met many other times in competitions such as the Copa del Rey, the Supercopa de España, and a two-legged Champions League semi-final in 2011.

The two superstars ended their dominance of Europe which saw them share 12 Ballon d’Ors among themselves and this would be a great opportunity to other players, especially the new generation, who never had a real chance to truly shine, to get recognised.

Throughout their dominance, the pair have always been the focal point of awards ceremonies and they have also broken a multitude of goalscoring records for both club and country.

The Argentine football icon is the La Liga’s all-time top scorer and most assists in the league’s history.

Ronaldo is the second all-time top scorer in the top flight of Spanish football and in fourth for assists provided by a single player.

The Portugal international is currently the UEFA Champions League all-time top appearance maker, goalscorer and assist provider.

Messi comes third for appearances and in second for both goals scored and assists provided in the competition’s history.

The former Barcelona man and his ex-Real Madrid counterpart are the first two players to score 100 goals in Champions League history.

Ronaldo also holds the records for most international caps and most international goals – with Messi ranked eleventh in appearances and third for goals scored

Ronaldo and Messi have dominated the Ballon d’Or/The Best FIFA Men’s Player awards since 2008, and UEFA Men’s Player of the Year Award since 2014.

Ronaldo is the most nominated player ever for the Ballon dO’r award – 18 times, while Messi is the second most nominated player with 15.

Argentina national team captain, Messi won four consecutive Ballon d’Or awards (2009 to 2012), claimed a fifth in 2015.

Ronaldo won the award in 2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2017 to equal Messi’s record and in 2019 and 2021 Messi won his sixth and seventh,

Both players, in total, reached the podium a record thirteen and twelve times, respectively. Combining Ballon d’Or, FIFA World Player of the Year and The Best FIFA Men’s Player.

Both Messi and Ronaldo were also nominated a record 11 times for the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year Award, with Ronaldo outperforming Messi 3 to 2 in wins and 9 to 6 in podium finishes.

Messi won eight Pichichi trophies and six European Golden Shoe awards (2010, 2012, 2013, 2017, 2018 and 2019). Ronaldo won the European Golden Shoe award on four occasions (2008, 2011, 2014 and 2015) and remains the only footballer with top-flight top scorer awards in England (2008), Spain (2011, 2014 and 2015) and Italy (2021).

The Al-Nassr attacker was the Champions League top scorer on seven occasions, with Messi also achieving this feat six times.

Argentine forward Messi has won a total 41 major trophies in club football and these include a club record 35 major trophies with Barcelona: twelve league titles, four Champions Leagues, seven Copa del Rey titles, eight Spanish Super Cups, one French Super Cup, three European Super Cups, and three FIFA Club World Cups.

Ronaldo on his part has a total of 32 major trophies in his basket: seven league titles and five Champions Leagues. He has won all national top-tier club competitions in England, Spain and Italy, including four national cups, two league cups, and seven national super cups. In addition, he won three European Super Cups,

With the Messi-Ronaldo dominance of European football ended, fans, pundits, the media and clubs will be searching for the next big, era-defining player.

Two players come to mind: Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland

One attribute of Messi and Ronaldo that is of advantage to them over other players, especially those of their generation is consistency.

Haaland and Mbappe have already shown the world how great they are and what the future holds for them as footballers but the question is how long they will keep playing football.

Manchester City forward Haaland is considered one of the best players in the world at the moment. He is known for his speed, strength, positioning, and finishing inside the box.

The Norway international is already holding the record for the most goals scored by a player in a single Premier League season, with 36.

He has won two Austrian Bundesliga titles and one Austrian Cup with Red Bull Salzburg. While at Borussia Dortmund, the 21-year-old won the DFB-Pokal in 2020–21.

In the summer of 2022, he transferred to Manchester City and helped manager Pep Guardiola’s side to win a continental treble in his debut campaign.

Haaland was named Young Player of the Season and Premier League Player of the Season, becoming the first player to win both awards in the same year.

During the 2019–20 season with Salzburg, Haaland became the first teenager to score goals in five consecutive UEFA Champions League matches and went on to become the top scorer of the competition for both the 2020–21 and 2022–23 seasons.

Haaland won the Golden Boy award in 2020, while in 2021 he was named Bundesliga Player of the Season and was included in the FIFA FIFPro World11 in 2021 and 2022.

In the Premier League, the Norway striker has also broken Premier League records: most goals scored in a season, the quickest individual to score two, three and four hat-tricks, and the first player in the history of English top flight football to score hat-tricks in three consecutive home games.

Kylian Mbappé: The Paris Saint-Germain forward has already taken some positive steps towards. He is already regarded as one of the best players in the world and tipped for several Ballon d’Or awards.

Mbappé won the Ligue1 title with Monaco in 2017 at the age of 18 and signed for PSG on an eventual permanent transfer worth €180 million.

He has won five Ligue 1 titles and three Coupes de France, including a domestic quadruple in the 2019–20 season, as well as leading the club to its first ever UEFA Champions League final in 2020. He is the club’s all-time top goalscorer and third all-time in assists.

At age 18, at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Mbappé became the youngest French player to score at a World Cup, and became the second teenager, after Pelé, to score in a World Cup Final.

He helped France win the World Cup, finishing joint second-highest goalscorer. He won the FIFA World Cup Best Young Player and French Player of the Year for his performances.

At the 2022 FIFA World Cup, France reached the final; Mbappé won the Golden Boot and Silver Ball and set the record for most goals scored in World Cup finals.

Mbappé was named to the FIFA FIFPro World11 in 2018, 2019 and 2022, the UEFA Team of the Year in 2018 and the UEFA Champions League Squad of the Season in 2016–17, 2019–20, 2020–21 and 2021–22.

The 24-year-old, who was recently given the captain armband of the French national team, was awarded the Golden Boy in 2017, and was shortlisted for the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year in 2019 and 2023.

The former Monaco forward has won Ligue 1 Player of the Year a record four times, and has finished as the Ligue 1 top scorer for a joint-record five seasons; in the 2021–22 season, he became the first player to finish as both Ligue 1 top scorer and top assist provider.

He was among Time’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2023.

“For over a decade now, it’s been all about Messi and Ronaldo. Sometimes you see some upcoming players and you think you can compare them to Messi and Ronaldo but before you know it they’ll fade away.

“Most of them become one-season players. Football fans should just have patience and wait. To get another set of players or a player like Messi or Ronaldo will take time, but it’ll surely happen.

“If you look at Haaland, he’s not a natural footballer. He just positions himself and scores whenever he has the opportunity. Haaland’s pattern of football is different from that of Messi and Ronaldo, you can’t compare them.”

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