Juventus’ 3-0 away victory over Barcelona at the Nou Camp this morning may have seen the curtain close on what has been an absolutely epic duel between two of the greatest to ever kick a ball – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Lionel Messi handing in his transfer request from Barcelona is perhaps one of the biggest stories in world football to date.
As he has his heart set on a future elsewhere, the question on everyone’s lips is who will take his place?
Evidently, it would be near impossible to entirely replace Messi, making Ronald Koeman’s job more problematic.
Here are five players who could attempt to fill the hole that Lionel Messi will leave after his inevitable departure and help begin a rebuild at the club.
1. Sadio Mané
Mané has had links to Spain in the past years, however Liverpool have managed to keep hold of him.
Mané has played a prominent part in Liverpool’s recent Premier League and Champions League success, scoring 81 goals across four years in all competitions, along with a Premier League golden boot in the 2018-19 season.
The 28-year-old is no stranger to Koeman either, as he was signed to Southampton by Koeman during his tenure in 2014. Within Mané’s two years at Southampton, he managed to score double-digit figures in both seasons, helping Southampton to sixth- and seventh-place finishes respectively.
Mané is mostly known for his ruthless finishing and see-ball-get-ball style. What he may lack in assists and providing teammates with the ball, he certainly makes up for in effort and finishing.
Although he isn’t the exact same style of player that Messi is, he would certainly play a vital role in Koeman’s rebuild of Barcelona.
2. Memphis Depay
Depay has had multiple links to the Camp Nou this year, none of which have eventuated just yet. Rumours would be expected to heat up if the reports about Luis Suarez to Juventus eventuate.
Depay is an important piece to Lyon’s puzzle, after joining the French side from Manchester United in January 2017. His leadership qualities came to fruition when he became the captain of Lyon late in 2019. Furthermore, he led his Lyon side into the semi-finals of the Champions League, which caught the competition by surprise.
The Dutchman is once again no stranger to Ronald Koeman, who just left the Dutch top job to join Barcelona. Reports suggest a primary reason that Depay would look to move to Barcelona would be to rekindle the relationship with Koeman.
The 26-year-old has recorded 57 goals in all competitions for Lyon, as he begins his fifth season at the club. To start the 2020-21 for Lyon he scored a hat trick against Dijon, showing off his flair and ability to impact a match.
He is once again known to be speedy and tricky on the ball as well as a fearsome finisher. Earlier in his career, he was known to be greedy with the ball, however as he has evolved, he has become a more well-rounded attacker, which highlights his leadership skills on the pitch.
3. Marcus Rashford
Marcus Rashford doesn’t look to be leaving Old Trafford anytime soon, but the player has got potential to become one of the greats, and a move to Barcelona wouldn’t be the worst decision.
Rashford has been a part of the Manchester United scene since he was seven, making his senior team debut in November 2015. He is showing a turn in maturity, as he is now a certain starter for the Red Devils. Perhaps a Lionel Messi of Manchester United is emerging.
Over the past five seasons, Rashford has managed to score 67 goals across all competitions for Manchester United. He has a number of trophies under his belt already including the 2015-16 FA Cup, the 2016 FA Community Shield, the 2016-17 EFL Cup, and lastly the 2016-17 Europa League.
Rashford, unlike Mané and Depay, is not only known for scoring but also score involvements and providing assists. He is technically gifted on the ball, and at the age of 22, it feels like he has been around for ages. Nonetheless he has plenty of time to improve.
The dribbling ability and chance creation is what Barcelona would miss if Messi were to leave, and Rashford fits the bill. Whether he fits Koeman’s style is another story.
Rashford’s presence off the field also shows his growth in maturity, with his work with FareShare. He helped raise money to provide food for children who would’ve been eligible for free meals if they were still at school. He does not show signs of stopping there either.
4. Jadon Sancho
He is another hot prospect in world football right now. Manchester United showed strong interest in the young Dortmund winger, however maybe Sancho should keep his options open.
Sancho began his career in England, playing for Watford and Manchester City in his youth days, before being bought by Borussia Dortmund in 2017. Since then, he has become a great asset of Dortmund and this has seen his value increase intensely.
The 20-year-old has had an immense start to his career, scoring 34 goals in all competitions in just three years, helping Dortmund to a DFL-Supercup victory in 2019.
He is versatile and can play the positions Messi regularly has for Barcelona, including striker, attacking midfielder, and more frequently as a winger.
He is exciting on the ball and has raw passing and finishing talent. This is evident from his most recent season with the German side, scoring 20 goals and providing 17 assists across all competitions.
Sancho looked almost certain to leave for Manchester United before they failed reach an agreeable fee. He would be a great asset to Barcelona and would offer many years of service, as he is only 20. However, Dortmund’s asking price may be too high for Barcelona at this stage.
5. Ansu Fati
Could Barcelona’s replacement for Messi be right under their nose? This would certainly save money in terms of a transfer. Fati has shown glimpses of why Barcelona should hold onto him for the long term.
Fati has undoubted potential. He entered Barcelona’s youth system at the age of ten, making his senior debut in August 2019 before even appearing for the reserves, aged 16. Last year, he agreed to a three-year deal until June 2022, with his contract including a big release clause.
In just his first season at the Camp Nou, Fati appeared in 33 matches across all competitions, scoring eight times, as well as making his debut for the Spanish national team recently in the Nations League.
It is incredibly important for Barcelona to hold onto him at this stage, as he is showing real signs of being the next big thing for Barcelona and European football.
At this stage, Fati is suited to the left wing, however he is still very young and has potential to adapt to other positions before he gets comfortable.
There is still plenty of work to be done for Messi’s foreseeable future. Nonetheless, any of these options would be great appointments for either the upcoming season, or season 2021-22.