There a few Barcelona legends that speak, and all Cules listen. Most recently, as Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernandez and Ronaldinho all transitioned from Catalonian superstars to retired footballers or Qatari attractions, they have not been shy about giving their support to Lionel Messi through all of his summer trials. A lot of what most footballers say and most media outlets credit those footballers with saying is usually hot air, particularly in the case of future transfers. Nevertheless, when former club icons heap praise on current ones, no one should overthink the intent. It is simply one friend complimenting another.
Xavi was posed with several questions, including to weigh in on the debate between Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. As is often the case with former Barcelona players, Xavi backed Messi and denied the relevance of any comparison between the two current stars. With the recent success of the Portuguese forward, including another Champions League title with Real Madrid and Portugal’s first European Championship, Ronaldo’s stock in the race for best in the world has improved. The debate of greatness between the two has waged for years, and media outlets know that they will get viewers with every new hot take of the worn out conversation.
Another way that media outlets know that they can attract attention is by comparing any prodigal talent to Messi and christening him a new version of the Argentine idol. Just in the last two or three years, Juan Manuel Iturbe the Paraguayan Messi, Ryan Gauld the Scottish Messi, Sardar Azmoun the Iranian Messi, Alan Dzagoev the Russian Messi, Mario Gotze the German Messi, Lorenzo Insigne the Italian Messi, Patrick Roberts the English Messi and an innumerable amount of youngsters from Argentina have been given unfair nicknames and expectations -- an utter waste of time if you ask me.
Comparing any youngster to Messi is putting an impossible standard on any player, but of course the world is already preparing for a time without the Argentine, and the search for an heir has already begun. Xavi weighed in on the matter, saying, “For me, there is no heir to Messi. There will never be one. There will be very good footballers, but nobody at Messi’s level.”
The insistence on picking an heir for Messi could potentially have some interesting effects on Barcelona. Producing Messi, along with so many of his teammates including Xavi, has given La Masia credibility for youth development and provides Cules with the hope that any prodigal talent could be the next Messi. This means that while Gerard Deulofeu and Cristian Tello were always doomed to be unable to meet impossible standards, their stock is much higher than other players exactly like them due to previous comparisons.
“When Messi ends his career, there will be Neymar, Hazard, five or ten players at a similar level,” Xavi said, “but none with the unquestionable superiority of Messi.”
Xavi is right that no one will equal Messi, but he may be onto something in picking a reasonable heir for Messi. Recently extended Neymar is the natural successor, both at Barcelona and on the world stage. In terms of talent and flash, Eden Hazard, Paul Pogba, David Alaba and Kevin De Bruyne, along with a few others, are the top picks to take over the list for yearly Ballon d’Or finalists.
From a pure marketing standpoint, Neymar is by far the best option to replace Messi. Pogba’s inability to raise his profile at the Euro 2016 means that Adidas must settle for marketing him as a pseudo-global star just under the top level, but shirt and shoe sales already prove that Neymar has reached that top level beside Messi and Ronaldo as he has aligned himself with Nike, Red Bull and other major brands.
While trying to entertain the idea of a successor for Messi can help the footballing world accept his eventual departure from the sport, one of the summer’s prevailing themes persists. Messi is still shy of 30, and he is still very much in his prime. There will be time to anoint a new player for the headlines, and Neymar has worked hard to put himself firmly at the front of the conversation.
Ultimately, the world must accept that there will never be a player quite like Lionel Messi, and as Xavi has attested that his recent issues on the field and off the field should be resolved as quickly as possible, “Above all, all these issues need to be resolved as soon as possible, so he can start from a clean slate. But really, it doesn’t affect him. If there is someone mentally strong, that person is Messi. He has overcome it all.”
How lucky Cules are to witness the best ever footballer sporting the Blaugrana on a weekly basis!