It has been a few years in the making and still appears a few years off arriving, but football fans regularly contemplate what life will be like when Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo either fall from their ridiculous standards or retire gracefully. Aged 31 and 33 respectively, they are at the time of the career when most normal footballers exhibit some signs of decline. Yet the reason they have had such longevity at the top of the game is their work ethic combined with ludicrous ability. Perhaps it could be the arrival of two new bona fide superstars that will encourage Messi and Ronaldo to hang up their boots.
If Messi or Ronaldo had been able to carry their national side to a World Cup title, they could have looked around the sport and decided that there were truly no more worlds to conquer. Instead, Ronaldo was his usual prolific self but received little help, while Messi never really looked comfortable in Argentina’s system under Jorge Sampaoli. Two men who have enjoyed far more successful World Cups are Kylian Mbappe and Neymar. The latter is, of course, Messi’s former Barcelona team-mate, while both are players who have been linked with moves to Real Madrid at various times to either supplement or usurp Ronaldo. Mbappe even grew up idolising Ronaldo, which, if nothing else, should serve to make many of us suddenly feel very old. (more…)