The debate is shifting and Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, these two unprecedented talents have entered the autumn of their careers. Next-generation superstars are making their presence felt and under-appreciated icons of the game are continuing to rack up marvellous performances.
Ronaldo and Messi have swung from tournament to tournament with more medals draped around their necks than their orthopedists would recommend. However, is their reign coming to a close?
The Messi vs. Cristiano debate may be the most formidable and impossible question ever posed in the history of soccer. There have been debates over tactics and style of play, including counterattack vs. possession and football vs. anti-football (basically offensive vs. defensive).
There have been debates over the rules and regulations of the game, including referees vs. technology (i.e., Video Assistant Referee, or VAR), that will continue to crop up as the game grows. And then there have been the player debates. Pele or Maradona? Ronaldo (the original) or Zidane? Or maybe Ronaldinho? Henry or Aguero? But the one question that will forever torture the soccer world involves two players who are reaching the ends of their careers right now.
Let’s take a look at the top 3 football players in recent times after Messi and Ronaldo:
- Kylian Mbappe
It may not be long until Kylian Mbappe surpasses the waning stars of Ronaldo and Messi in this list of the best footballers in the world – but for now, the Frenchman is just below those two icons of the game. Why? Well, for those in the corridors of power at Paris Saint-Germain, the difference between greatness and superstardom is the Champions League.
Mbappe enjoyed a strong 2020 but couldn’t steer his team to Champions League glory in the final against Bayern Munich. He has now scored 92 in 109 Ligue 1 games for PSG taking his career total for all teams across all competitions to an obscene 188 goals in 285 games. Kylian Mbappe is 22 years old.
He is approaching a crossroads in his career with murmurs of a move to Real Madrid never far away. Mbappe’s blistering pace and the clinical edge will take him to the very top of this list within the next few years.
OVERALL CAREER STATS
- Apps (Subs): 285 (55)
- Goals (P): 188 (14)
- Assists: 65
- Yellows: 30 (0)
- Reds: 3
- Min Played: 20918
- Kevin De Bruyne
No player in the Premier League is as technically gifted as Kevin De Bruyne. The eagle-eyed playmaker has the technical ability and intelligence to dominate games both at home and abroad. His physicality – both in speed and strength – is also underestimated.
Manchester City would not be the same without De Bruyne. He is the assist king, with City scoring a goal provided by the Belgian once every two Premier League games. Of course, having a team of glittering stars around him aids De Bruyne’s club performances, but the 29-year-old has also produced for Belgium.
We haven’t dug into the minutely detailed stats for every player, but here are some numbers from KDB’s 181 Premier League games so far. He plays 53 passes per match, has created 116 ‘big chances’ and up to the 2021/22 season has recorded 120 goal contributions (78 assists, 42 goals).
There’s a feeling that one more off-the-wall season could nudge De Bruyne to the very top of this list. In fact, others may already place him there and it would be hard to mount a case against them.
OVERALL CAREER STATS
- Apps (Subs): 521 (48)
- Goals (P): 136 (7)
- Assists: 146
- Yellows: 50 (2)
- Reds: 0
- Min Played: 41197
- Mohamed Salah
Mohamed Salah will simply go down as one of the best-value signings in modern-day Premier League history. He cost £36million, which is still a hefty sum, but Liverpool unearthed world-class talent for that money.
The Egyptian’s consistency earns him a place on this list. His initial season with the Reds saw him crash home 32 goals in 36 games. That was an unsustainable figure considering he was only two goals short of the all-time Premier League record for a single season, but he has since produced a trio of campaigns around the 20-goal mark – plus assists.
Salah has found the net 134 times in 212 games for Liverpool. For a forward who is not an out-and-out striker, those numbers – in the context of a tough, physical league – are outrageous.