The new Messi? Atsu, Gotze and 17 others who took the title and never lived up to Leo


There is a weird fascination with comparing players to those that have gone before.

That’s not limited to football, by the way. In the NFL draft, for example, scouts and journalists fall over themselves to draw parallels with existing pros to help people understand the style and potential ability of a college prospect.

In our own form of football, things aren’t so specific. While you wouldn’t find a centre-back getting called ‘the next Maradona’ or ‘the Uzbek Ronaldo’, it seems a lot of comparisons can be pretty slack.

Maxi Romero, for example, is expected to sign for Arsenal soon and has been labelled ‘the new Messi’ despite being an out-and-out centre-forward.

Basically if you’re good and young and play forward of the halfway line, you’re at risk of a high-pressure epithet and Lionel Messi – being arguably the best player in the world – is top of the list of comparisons.

Here are 18 players that know it all too well: Maxi Romero – the new Messi

The man who inspired our list, Maxi Romero is a 16-year-old striker who will sign for Arsenal if they can work out the complex issues regarding his ownership.

A legitimate concern is the amount of talented players who have come out of Velez’s academy and never done anything – the last proper success was probably Jonas Gutierrez – but he’s a highly-rated young player who will stay in Argentina for two more seasons.

The new Messi though? A centre-forward? He’s Argentine, that’s about it.

Messi rating: B+ but mainly potential
  Juan Manuel Iturbe – the Paraguayan Messi
Iturbe was born in Buenos Aires but came through the ranks in Paraguay with Cerro Porteño, where his low centre of gravity and quick dribbling caught the eye. Moves to Porto and a loan to Hellas Verona ended up with him dazzling Serie A and he earned a huge-money move to Serie A.

Despite being labelled the Guarani or Paraguayan Messi, the winger declared for the country of his birth when Argentina wheeled out the full charm offensive. At 16, Diego Maradona took him along to the 2010 World Cup to train with the full squad and he declared his intention to play for the Albiceleste.

That said, he’s still to win his first cap.
Messi rating: B – plays for a big club but much to prove still

  Claudio Nancufil – the snow Messi
Claudio Gabriel Nancufil, nicknamed Snow Messi, hit the headlines when a raft of top clubs were vying for his signature in 2013 . The 8-year-old plays for a junior club in Bariloche, Argentina, whose location at the foot of the Andes lends Nancufil his somewhat ludicrous nickname.

Nancufil has amazing dribbling skills and control, is left footed and is also very small for his age – hence the Messi comparisons.

His family got an agency, Sueno Comunicaciones, to broker a move to Europe with all of the big clubs vying for his services. We’ve heard nothing since.

Messi rating: D for ‘disappeared off the face of the planet’

  Ryan Gauld – the baby Messi
The wee Dundee United talent attracted a lot of interest as some of Europe’s top clubs watched with interest . In the end, the teenage Gauld opted for a move to Sporting CP , where he has since claimed to have “escaped” the Baby Messi tag.

At 5ft 6in, he certainly fulfils the height requirements to be compared to the Argentina captain, and his dribbling style isn’t far off either.

Whether he’ll ever be as good we won’t know for some time… but probably not.

(Point of order: The Scottish Messi was, inexplicably, Barry Bannan)

Messi rating: C – not yet in the Sporting first team, but time on his side   Take Kubo – the Japanese Messi

Takefusa Kubo has had a far bigger impact on football than you might realise, considering you’ve probably never heard his name before.

Yes, Kubo is one of the kids signed by Barcelona that triggered their current transfer ban. And while the grander focus might be on the fact they can’t bring in Paul Pogba, perhaps it’s time to invoke the Helen Lovejoy defence on this… “won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children?”

Indeed, it’s Barca’s academy youngsters who have been hit by the FIFA ruling, and those under-18s who aren’t from the EU have been prevented from playing. American Ben Lederman, 14, Bobby Adekanye, a 16-year-old from Nigeria, and a host of others are thus expected to walk out on the Camp Nou club.

And poor Take Kubo already has, quitting Barcelona this month to head back to Japan, where he left in pursuit of his dreams in 2011 aged just 13. Sad times.

Messi rating: C- Back in Japan but obviously talented enough for La Masia

  Sardar Azmoun – the Iranian Messi
Still just 20, the Iranian Messi could still make it to the top of the game.

Though the fact that Rubin Kazan have loaned him out to Rostov doesn’t bode particularly well.

Azmoun has some international caps under his belt and could have represented Iran at volleyball before heartlessly turning his back on the people’s sport for a career in soccer.

Messi rating: E – Rostov, lads. Rostov.
  Lorenzo Insigne – the Italian Messi
He ticks most of the requisite Messi boxes – shortish in stature, good dribbler, quick and plays from the flank.

He also plays for a big club in the Champions League, which puts him miles above some of the reprobates on this list.

But injury has stalled the 23-year-old’s progress this season, with his nine-minute cameo last weekend the first time he’s played since November.

Messi rating: B+ needs to stay fit and kick on.

  Li Ming – the Chinese Messi
Well if you’re going to find a Messi in Scotland, it would be difficult not to stumble across one in a country of well over a billion people.

That man (boy) is Li Ming.
Interestingly, if you google Li Ming then you actually get a lot of pictures of bikini-clad singer and actor Li Ming.

The 15-year-old football prodigy plays for Qingdao’s Chengyang Experimental No. 2 Primary School.

Messi rating: E – appears to be just a kid on YouTube.

  Christian Atsu – the African Messi
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