Ronaldo & Messi: Who might replace stars of global game in the 2020s?

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi dominated the 2010s with their brilliance. No-one even came close.

But Juventus forward Ronaldo, 34, and Barcelona’s Messi, 32, can’t go on forever. Who will take their place?

Here, BBC Sport’s writers and pundits consider which players might emerge as new leaders of the global game over the next 10 years to come.

You can have your say and vote below – plus hear more debate on BBC Radio 5 Live’s European Football podcast on Thursday, 9 January.

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Kylian Mbappe (Paris St-Germain & France)

Date of birth: 20 December 1998

Position: Forward

BBC Sport chief football writer Phil McNulty:

Mbappe is just 21, already a World Cup winner with France in Russia in 2018 and quite simply football’s greatest young star.

Blessed with blistering pace and a natural goalscorer’s eye, it is impossible to see how he can be diverted away from true greatness in the next decade.

He is the natural heir to the crown that will eventually be left behind by Messi and Ronaldo, with all the biggest prizes sure to be in his sights.

Mbappe is currently at Paris St-Germain, spearheading their quest for the elusive Champions League crown.

But his true worth will be demonstrated when he leaves – possibly next summer – for what will surely be a world record fee, with Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane at the front of the queue.

European football writer Kristof Terreur:

Mbappe has to feature top of the list, because basically he’s up there already. He’s already one of the best players in the world right now, even at his young age.

He delivered at the World Cup in 2018, and has been dominant domestically for PSG in France. If he can perform to the same levels in the latter stages of the Champions League and add the Euros to his list of honours, he will be close to his first Ballon d’Or.

The world is already at his feet. Only a diva attitude can stop him from taking it all. He has everything to take over the billboards from Messi and Ronaldo: speed, skill, charisma and the right amount of cheek.

Ex-Manchester City defender Micah Richards:

Once Messi and Ronaldo are finished, Mbappe is going to be the one collecting the game’s biggest prizes. I don’t think he will get as many goals as either of them, because their numbers are just staggering, but he’s the best young player I have ever seen. He’s the closest thing I have seen to Thierry Henry at his peak. At his age, that is some statement.

When Sergio Aguero leaves City, and they need two strikers, I would have Gabriel Jesus and Mbappe – even if he costs £150m, he’d be worth it.

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Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid & Portugal)

Date of birth: 10 November 1999

Position: Forward

Spanish football writer Guillem Balague:

Now 20 years old, Atletico Madrid spent a club record £113m to sign Joao Felix from Benfica in July. It was the world’s third highest transfer fee, paid for a then-teenager who had played just 43 first-team games.

His start at Atletico was hampered by injury and not being played in his most effective role, but the demanding Atleti manager Diego Simeone has now started to give him more freedom to express himself.

He is on his way to undoubtedly becoming the offensive trump card for a side who despite their defensive strengths frequently find it difficult to score.

BBC Sport chief football writer Phil McNulty:

Felix is already being groomed in Portugal as the natural successor to Ronaldo, ending the year by being awarded the prestigious Golden Boy award in Dubai.

A gifted attacker, Atletico fought off fierce competition to secure his signature last summer and under the guidance of Simeone, he can only get better. Like Mbappe, Felix has the talent to decorate the biggest stages for club and country for years to come.

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Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund & England)

Date of birth: 25 March 2000

Position: Winger

Ex-Tottenham midfielder Jermaine Jenas:

Jadon Sancho has to be in here because he is doing ridiculous things for Dortmund. I have been watching loads of him and he has just been killing it over there – goals, assists, his confidence through the roof.

What does he need to do next? Well, he is consistent already, doing it every week. You would usually point the finger at scoring more goals with young players like him but he is cool in front of goal and he has got his assists too. His end product is already there.

Maybe in some of the bigger games for Dortmund he has not quite been able to do it this year and that might be the question mark over him. He’s also had a little wobble with his discipline, so he probably needs to tighten up with that side of things, but apart from that he looks like a special player.

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Ansu Fati (Barcelona & Spain U21)

Date of birth: 31 October 2002

Position: Winger

Spanish football writer Guillem Balague:

Lightning fast, a superb dribbler of the ball, a natural finisher with a superb vision and an understanding of the game that belies his youth, the story of the 17-year-old Ansu Fati could have been penned by a Hollywood screenwriter.

The son of an immigrant from Guinea Bissau, he arrived in Spain in Seville with his mother and brother at the age of six after his father had arrived earlier looking for work. An obvious natural talent from the start, he was signed by Barcelona for their La Masia academy at just 10 years of age and was this season catapulted into the first team without even having played for the reserves.

Now aged 17, he is Barcelona’s youngest ever senior team goalscorer, youngest player ever to score and assist in the same game and youngest to represent the club in the Champions League.

He bears an uncanny resemblance to the style and performances shown by a certain Lionel Messi at the same age.

He also has a new €170m release clause in his current contract, which is set to rise to €400m when he signs full professional terms.

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Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool & England)

Date of birth: 7 October 1998

Position: Right-back

BBC Sport chief football writer Phil McNulty:

The attackers provide the glamour, but in 21-year-old Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool have the perfect dual purpose player who is efficient in defence but devastating in attack, where his trademark delivery from wide positions has been a rich source of goals.

Alexander-Arnold has already won the Champions League with Liverpool and it is only a matter of time before he fully establishes himself as England’s first-choice right-back, with the potential to be one of the stars of Euro 2020.

Indeed, such is Alexander-Arnold’s range of passing, creation and the ability to get a goal that it would be no surprise if he developed into a world-class midfielder at some point in the future.

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