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The young soccer players competing to be the heirs to Ronaldo and Messi

Cristiano Ronaldo (the present) and João Félix (the future). Photo: Mike Kireev/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Cristiano Ronaldo (the present) and João Félix (the future). Photo: Mike Kireev/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Several young soccer players are vying to become the future face of the sport, "replacing Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the world's best players," writes the New York Times Rory Smith.

The lineup: João Félix, 19 (Atlético Madrid; Portugal) — Kylian Mbappé, 20 (Paris St.-Germain; France) — Frenkie de Jong, 22 (Barcelona; Netherlands) — Kai Havertz, 20 (Bayer Leverkusen; Germany) — Vinícius Júnior, 19 (Real Madrid; Brazil).

  • "All of a sudden, it feels as if the future is at hand," writes Smith.
  • "Others have previously worn that tag, of course. Neymar, for a long time, seemed to be the player in waiting. Some might have made a case for Eden Hazard … or possibly even Paul Pogba."
  • "In reality, though, their timing was wrong. Ronaldo has endured as an elite performer for longer than many, perhaps, expected ... Messi is only 32, and if anything he has been getting better over the last couple of years."

The bottom line: Neymar, Hazard and other established superstars will be nearing age 30 by the time Messi vacates his perch, while this new generation will be entering their prime.