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Could Neymar and Mbappe be the next Ronaldo and Messi?

Football has been blessed by a select number of transcendent stars.

An uncrowded pedestal atop the sport that’s featured the likes of Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, and in recent years, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo now awaits its newest members.

Messi and Ronaldo have desensitized a generation of fans and pundits when it comes to realistic expectations for modern footballing brilliance. Pairing longevity and consistency, the two immortals have carved out a spotlight that begs for a surrogate.

As the eternal rivals reach the later stages of their respective careers, there could be a pair currently plying their trade in France that could take up the mantle as the world’s very best.

When Neymar burst onto the international stage as an 18-year-old in 2010 with Brazilian behemoth Santos, the attacker gifted with equal parts pace and panache fit the profile of a player set to become a footballing deity.

FRANCK FIFE / AFP / Getty

Eight years on, and Neymar suddenly has company in the form of the 19-year-old Paris Saint-Germain teammate Kylian Mbappe. Neymar left Barcelona last summer on a world-record deal in hopes of escaping Messi’s shadow, and in doing so unpredictably found himself somewhat dimmed in Mbappe’s. One resembles the ostentatious, showy star who draws the ire of “traditionalists,” the other a humble and genial character who seems keen to let his play do the talking. Sound familiar?

Like Messi and Ronaldo’s early careers on the continent, Mbappe and Neymar appear as distinct personalities.

Messi, who emerged from Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy a timid character aided by growth hormones and partially obscured by a mod mop on the fringes of disorder, was the bashful figure to Ronaldo’s bulging bronze abs and often self-serving goal celebrations. The Argentine’s ordinary, if not scanty frame was one that the common fan could attain for, while Ronaldo’s pulsating physique was anything but. Aesthetically, the two stars could not have been more different, and the same applied on the pitch.

The generation’s greatest passer, Messi fit Barcelona’s tiki-taka ethos to a tee, slaloming in and out of trouble while negotiating the crampest of quarters and playing both provider and scorer. Like Messi, Ronaldo is a deft dribbler, but the Portuguese’s early career attempts at beating a defender were that of a showman driven to not only beat an opponent but embarrass him. Recall the Sporting CP and Manchester United version of Ronaldo as a brash star whose sometimes superfluous stepovers were the complete opposite of Messi’s resourceful and measured runs.

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