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Who is stepping up to Messi and Ronaldo’s mantle?

2019 Ballon d'Or
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For the last decade, the global football debate has not been “Who is the best player in the world?” but simply “Messi or Ronaldo?”

That is a testament to the remarkable consistency of both players, who collectively hogged the Ballon d’Or for 10 years running, up until Luka Modric’s recognition in 2018.

But as the pair is getting older, the question is who can step up to the mantle?

Kylian Mbappe and Neymar are the immediate contenders, but we’ve picked out five young, attacking players who could also reach the pinnacle of the game.

Dejan Kulusevski

Right-footed left-sided attacking players are common, so Dejan Kulusevski’s ability to cut inside from the right flank onto his left foot is hugely valuable.

The 19-year-old, on loan at Parma from Atalanta, has taken 70% of his shots this season with his left foot and has been directly involved in eight goals in Serie A.

Possessing a strong physique at 6’1”, Kulusevski also possesses impressive defensive awareness for a teenager and can play as a right-sided forward, a central midfielder or a number 10.

dejan kulusevski, udinese, serie a
PARMA, ITALY – OCTOBER 29: Dejan Kulusevski of Parma Calcio in action during the Serie A match between Parma Calcio and Hellas Verona at Stadio Ennio Tardini on October 29, 2019 in Parma, Italy. (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

Timo Werner

Werner received criticism at Russia 2018 when Germany exited at the Group Stage. With the national team, he did not have a teammate occupying the defence – it was his job to lead the line.

For RB Leipzig, Werner has thrived playing off Yussuf Poulsen, with whom he shares hold-up responsibilities.

That means the Stuttgart-born striker can drop into midfield to link-up play effectively, then dart into goalscoring areas; he has hit 17 goals for club and country already this season.

Timo Werner, Leipzig, Bundesliga
LEIPZIG, GERMANY – NOVEMBER 02: Timo Werner of RB Leipzig celebrates after scoring his team’s second goal during the Bundesliga match between RB Leipzig and 1. FSV Mainz 05 at Red Bull Arena on November 02, 2019 in Leipzig, Germany. (Photo by Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Raheem Sterling

Manchester City’s star man is the most accomplished player on the list and the likeliest to step into this extraordinary void. The Englishman is already amongst the best players in the Premier League and has undergone tremendous improvement under Pep Guardiola, winning back-to-back titles.

A quick look at the Freebets UK  reveals that Raheem SterlinG was way out at 14/1 to be crowned the top scorer in the Premier League this season before it started. The odds have certainly shortened since then after the former Liverpool man grabbed 8 goals in his first 13 matches for the Citizens.

But the 24-year-old is just one part of an extraordinary team looking to make it three consecutive title wins. They were the odds-on favourites to do just that this term but things have changed following the unstoppable form of Liverpool. The Reds were 5/2 to win the league at the start of the season but those odds have shortened significantly.

It remains to be seen whether that will affect Sterling. It’s unlikely that he will agree on another contract at the Etihad and could force a move to one of Europe’s elite. It would be worth looking at the Champions League betting odds for a club like Real Madrid if Sterling were to swap Manchester for Spain.

Raheem Sterling, Manchester City, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 06: Raheem Sterling of Manchester City during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Etihad Stadium on October 06, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Mikel Oyarzabal

Oyarzabal has developed superbly with Real Sociedad.

The 22-year-old has played primarily on the left this season but, when deployed on the right previously, he has posed a goalscoring threat due to his strong left foot.

Without possessing rapid pace, Oyarzabal can often beat an opponent due to his agility, quick feet and speed of thought while his defensive contributions are always diligent.

Mikel Oyarzabal
ST GALLEN, SWITZERLAND – MAY 29: Mikel Oyarzabal of Spain looks on before the kick-off of an international friendly match between Spain and Bosnia at the AFG Arena on May 29, 2016 in St Gallen, Switzerland. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Riccardo Orsolini

Orsolini was delightful to watch last season in Serie A, where he scored 10 goals and managed six assists.

The 22-year-old possesses pace, sublime dribbling ability and a powerful left foot, enabling him to threaten from outside the penalty area. Bologna’s right-sided forward has a creative mind and a big move surely awaits.

MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 03: Henrique Dalbert of FC Internazionale is challenged by Riccardo Orsolini of Bologna FC during the Serie A match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on February 3, 2019 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)
MILAN, ITALY – FEBRUARY 03: Henrique Dalbert of FC Internazionale is challenged by Riccardo Orsolini of Bologna FC during the Serie A match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on February 3, 2019 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)