After France and Portugal played out a 0-0 draw on Sunday night, a number of French players took to their social media accounts to post about the game. Interestingly, their main purpose didn’t seem to be to reflect on the match itself; instead, it looked as though many of them simply wanted an excuse to post a picture of themselves playing next to Cristiano Ronaldo.
You can hardly blame them. Ronaldo is, without a doubt, part of a duo that will go down as the best footballing couplet in history. The other, of course, is Lionel Messi.
Paul Pogba and Presnel Kimpembe were among those who showcased their pride at sharing the pitch with the Portuguese superstar, but it was the post of another player that has really caught the eyes of football fans around the world – Kylian Mbappe.
Pictures have been doing the rounds all over the internet ever since, consisting of comparisons between the recent photo of the two and another of them meeting when Ronaldo was tearing La Liga defences apart as Real Madrid player (Mbappe hadn’t burst onto the scene at this point).
This photo has served to remind us of a depressing and yet intriguing future – one in which Ronaldo and Messi no longer bless the pitch with their genius season after season.
In this future, there are a new generation of players who will pick up the mantle and become the idols young footballers strive to be. It’s not an enviable task to try and live up to Messi and Ronaldo’s unfathomable heights – in fact, it might not be possible. Ever.
However, someone has to try.
So who is it going to be? Which players have the potential and bravery to reach the heights these giants have?
Kylian Mbappe is certainly one of them himself, and that’s why it’s so fitting that the picture of he and Ronaldo has sparked this debate back into life. The young Frenchman already stands among the elite footballers of the world and he is only 21 years old, so that gives us a clue as to how far his career can go.
A lot of critics have already fallen into the trap of believing Mbappe isn’t as good as he’s made out to be simply because he plays his club football in France. This is ridiculous and if anyone says this to you, you can tell them in good confidence that they possess no worthwhile football knowledge.
The French league may not be the strongest in the world, but that takes nothing away from Mbappe’s ability – especially at this young age. He will leave Paris at some point in his quest to match his idol Ronaldo’s exploits across Europe, but he’s already on the way to proving his worth.
The forward has 53 goals in 52 league games for Paris Saint-Germain, already propelling him to 7th on their list of all time top goalscorers. He scored in a World Cup final where his side lifted football’s greatest prize, and just last season he helped his club reach a Champions League final which, if they’d won, would have handed Mbappe two of the sport’s biggest trophies after barely leaving his teen years. Maybe it’s a good thing that he still has something out there to work for.
There is no question that after Messi and Ronaldo retire, Mbappe will be the one holding the torch for football’s next generation.
Another youngster who has the ability to match the records laid out by the two superstars is Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland. The Norweigan’s goalscoring exploits are perhaps even more freakish than Mbappe’s, and his finishing is definitely up there with the best in the world. He just doesn’t seem to miss.
He has 17 goals in 18 Bundesliga games for Dortmund and has six in six international caps, so it’s definitely not unfair to define him as the definition of a goal machine. If he can improve even more on top of this current form (remember, he’s only 20 years old) then he’s another with a claim to the throne.
He’s another who will definitely move sooner rather than later, and that will only help his career flourish that much more. Dortmund are, at the end of the day, a selling club and it won’t be long before the big dogs come calling. Not if he maintains this level of performance.
These two aren’t the only wonderkids who are being described as generational talents, and they certainly won’t be alone in the battle for Ballon D’Or awards in the post-Ronaldo and Messi era. Mason Greenwood is younger still and he’s already shown consistent flashes of genius and wondrous ability in a struggling Manchester United squad.
Ansu Fati is giving Barcelona fans hope during a turbulent time at the Camp Nou, while Jadon Sancho will certainly have faith in his ability to reach the very top of the game. His link-up play with Haaland in Germany has been particularly good to watch.
It might not be plausible to ever match the standards set by Ronaldo and Messi. It could be nigh on impossible – these players will need to play to the best of their ability for well over a decade to even come close.
There’s one thing that is certain, though, and that’s that these players will give everything they’ve got to emulate their idols.
Who knows; it might be Mbappe posing with the next generational talent in ten years time. Only time will tell.